Why Did the Cultural Revolution Take Place What Were Its Outcomes? Essay

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Why did the Cultural Revolution take place? What were its outcomes

Cultural Revolution

Why did the Cultural Revolution take place? What were its outcomes?

The changes and developments in China's social and economic history over the past one hundred years have been dramatic. It has emerged from a period of extreme social and cultural change and revolution to become one of the economic and industrial giants of the Twenty-First Century. Many critics and commentators such a Naughton (2006) refer to the modern history of the Chinese cultural and economic revolution as nothing short of miraculous. This is a view that is reiterated by a number of other critics. For example, in a work entitled the Search for Modern China (1999) by Spence, the author states that China is a new superpower whose ascendency threatens the established superpowers like the United States. This is a theme that is explored extensively and contemporaneously in many other modern analyses.

However, the time from the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the Chinese Cultural Revolution to China today constitutes a complex and involved period of history. This paper will attempt to provide a brief overview of the main causative factors during this period, as well as providing insight into the consequences and effects of this Cultural Revolution, and the trajectory of development that has led to the contemporary China of today.

2. Causative factors

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There are many causative factors for the historical events that led to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. History is never simple and the underlying reasons for an event of this complexity and influence are interrelated and often convoluted. The most common reason given for the Cultural Revolution is ideological. This refers to the view promulgated by Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Communist Party of China, that the Cultural Revolution was a necessary response to the threat of capitalist ideological and economic hegemony in his country.

Essay on Why Did the Cultural Revolution Take Place What Were Its Outcomes? Assignment

In essence the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was a mass movement that used force in violence to achieve its ends. It began in 1966 and officially ended with the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Among the consequences of this revolution were negative aspects such as extreme economic upheaval, as well as social and political persecution and destruction of historical culture.

There were also political factors and a power play within the country that has to be taken into account in any assessment of the causes of the Cultural Revolution. Mao Zedong asserted that liberal and capitalistically inclined elements were taking over the party and steering the country in a direction that was opposed to the communist revolutionary aims of a classless and egalitarian society. He therefore instigated violent forms of revolt based on the principles of class struggle. This was facilitated to a great extent by the mobilization of the Chinese youth and to the Red Guard groups in the country.

The basic causes of the Cultural Revolution are summed up succinctly by Paugh (2005) as follows:

Initiated by Mao Zedong and his supporters in the Chinese Communist Party, the Cultural Revolution was aimed at overthrowing "capitalist roaders" at the highest levels of the party who were steering China towards full-scale capitalist restoration. This unprecedented form of class struggle engaged tens of millions of workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals. (Pugh, 2005, p. 33)

There were also many more complex political reasons for the direction and nature that the Cultural Revolution was to take. As Spence (1999) states,

Aided by the People's Liberation Army and by Defense Minister Lin Biao, who set himself up as the foremost promoter of Mao's political genius, Mao began to challenge his own entrenched party bureaucracy. Starting first in the cultural sphere, he expanded by 1966 into the political, the social, the educational, and the economic. (Spence, 1999, p. 416)

The above implies a certain degree of political manipulation and motivation in attaining the ends of the revolution as envisaged by Mao. As noted, an important element of the revolution was that Mao also used the intense power and political energy of the youthful Red Guards, who he pitted against the older more established echelons of the society. From this power base he launched the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," which has been described by historians as "…an immense and contorted movement that for years wrought terror and disorder on China." (Spence, 1999, pp. 416 / 417)

Part of the initial success of the revolution was the force and power used to destabilize the established party bureaucracy in the country. This led to the complete refurbishment of the power base of the country and to the subsequent creation of revolutionary committees that were intended to instill "… the new spirit of radicalism into every factory, commune, school, and work unit." (Spence, 1999, pp. 416 / 417) as will be discussed in the following section, this radicalization and use of extreme power and force were to have deleterious consequences for the country as a whole.

3. Consequences of the Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution came to a halt with the death of Mao in 1976. It is noteworthy that to a great extent many of the reforms that were associated with the Cultural Revolution were abandoned after 1976. Therefore, there is a general perception that the Cultural Revolution is seen by many Chinese as a failure to a great extent.

The most immediate and obvious effect of the Cultural Revolution was violence and turmoil that had a profoundly negative effect on the society. As Spence (1999) states, "With the euphoria, fear, excitement, and tension that gripped the country, violence grew apace. Thousands of intellectuals and others were beaten to death or died of their injuries. Countless others committed suicide…" (Spence, 1999, p. 575) Many of China's authors, artists and intellectuals died unnecessarily during this early period of revolution. Furthermore, libraries and museums were also destroyed by the Red Guard, which robbed the county of much of its rich cultural heritage. Terror was also a consequence and millions were forcibly relocated to 'purification' camps. (Spence, 1999, p. 575)

Among the other negative consequences of the Revolution was the creation of one of the worst manmade famines in the history of the country. Fenby in his comprehensive work entitled the Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to 2008 (2008) states that approximately 46 million Chinese died during this period. (Fenby, 2008) This was due to the fact that extreme social change disrupted normal activities and system of production in the country. The system that become so prolific during his period of labeling and categorizing of people also bred violence and broke down the functioning fabric of the society. As Spence (1999) states, "Such a system bred both fear and compliance" (Spence, 1999, p. 576)

Therefore, the Cultural Revolution was not only a social but also an economic failure in many respects. Many industries were closed down or negatively affected and farmers were not properly trained to cope with demand.

4. Conclusion: The future

With the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution now part of the Chinese history, there has since late 1970s been a dramatic resurgence in the Chinese economy and in their industrial output. This is evidenced in many modern studies of the country. As Jacques (2009) states in his study entitled, When China Rules the World, the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the end of the Western World, the rise of modern China has the implication that the future of international relations and the balance of power in the world will be forever changed. Jacques refers to a new period or era of 'contested modernity' in which China, due to its increasing economic and industrial power and influence will play a role that threatens to topple the established superpowers in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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