The Cultural Revolution in China – Causes and Effects


An ideology is a collection of ideas that form the basis of one’s actions or goals. It is a philosophical way of perceiving ideas in the politic and economical arena. Communism is a social organization of people that is based on common ownership and economic theory. It does not support the idea of individuals owning property. Communism is based on the fact that people should work collectively for the common good of a nation. Revolutions are used by the political class to bring changes in many countries across the world (Chen and Deng 34; Lull 40). However, many revolutions are marked by bloodshed and damage of property during the struggle to topple the ruling class. This paper will look at the impact of the communist ideology on the Cultural Revolution that marked China from 1966 to 1976.

The use of young people as agents of mobilization

Throughout the Cultural Revolution, Mao relied on the Chinese youth to spread his communist ideology and mobilize millions of citizens to protest against capitalism (Morton and Lewis 23). For example, he sold the idea to high school students who were happy to be involved in a revolution that would liberate China politically. The students were used as guards of Mao against proponents of capitalists. The students were so powerful that they could enter into people’s houses to interrogate them about matters about capitalism versus communism. Not only did they take of hostage of poor citizens, but they also controlled hospitals and other institutions like institutions of learning (Morton and Lewis 26).

The young people were used as a sign of economic oppression. For example, upon being called by their leader, they could travel on trains without paying tickets to their destinations. Therefore, they led to losses made by the train operators. It could be taken differently if their leader provided them with financial resources to move around the country to spread his communism agenda. The students had not completed high school education and were, thus, ill-equipped to manage the institutions they occupied. However, the Mao’s vision was to combine the educated and uneducated people in China and help them to work for the common good of the nation (Morton and Lewis 59). The youth was embarrassing their leader because they could not decipher the social, economical, and political ideologies that could govern a nation. They followed their leader without questioning because they always believed that he was right.


Mao was involved in mobilizing the masses to adopt socialism in 1958, immediately after China’s first ambitious plan aimed to foster growth and development in the nation. In the spirit of advancing social, economic and political development, Mao founded the Great Leap Forward and another political vehicle, the People’s Communes to cater to people living in the upcountry. After forming the parties, he used his influence to convince people to form groups that could be used to agitate for socialism. The politician made people believe that they could achieve political and economic independence if they adopted communism. He argued that capitalist ideology was meant to benefit only a few people in the society, especially the rich. However, through the adoption of socialism, he contended, China could achieve unrivaled industrialization levels. However, he could not tell people the advantages of capitalist ideology that was being adopted by countries like the US.

To enable communities to be economically independent, he assigned some communities specific areas of production. For example, there was a community that was assigned to produce steel. However, the ideology told by Mao to farmers was a great failure, and the Great Leap did not succeed. Some farmers with little education could focus on producing steel in large-scale using traditional furnaces. They produced metal of low quality that could not be used for meaningful production of products. This was not the only line of production that was affected. Also, agricultural output was negatively impacted by the communist ideology fronted by Mao. The result of low food output was the Great Chinese Famine. Although Mao thought that communism could take the masses from poverty and help to develop the entire country uniformly, he did not support his assertions with evidence-based findings and people on the ground who could direct millions of the Chinese peasants. At that time, people were dying as a result of anger, and many felt that they had been cheated by their political leadership (Morton and Lewis 70).

As a result of the failure of the Great Leap, Mao was forced to resign from the top leadership of the party because the other party loyalists felt that their leader had made them misguide the people. Although Mao did not participate in economic decision-making processes of the party after he resigned from the top leadership, he focused on contemplating how the Marxist-Leninist social theory could be applied in China to bring about high levels of development. For example, he thought about the adoption of continuous revolution to bring change in China. The goal of continuous revolution, he thought, was to help him recapture the top leadership of the party he founded and impose communist ideology upon the people of China.

The Sino-Soviet Split

It was notable that in the mid 20th century, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union were the two nations that were well marked by communist structures (Morton and Lewis 15). The countries had been characterized by mutual agreements that benefited both economically and politically. However, disagreements emerged when Joseph Stalin died, and Nikita Khrushchev took over the leadership of the Soviet Union. The new leader aimed to execute post-Stalin economic reforms. However, leaders in China, including Mao, did not like that idea. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party held that the implementation of the post-Stalin economic blueprint could negatively impact the progress of the Marxist movement. Mao asserted that the new leadership of the Soviet Union could respect their departed hero by adhering to Marxism-Leninism.

The relationship between the two nations worsened, and the Soviet Union was willing to support China to join the United Nations. Also, it did not honor its pledge to continue supplying China with nuclear weapons. As a result of frustrations, Mao denounced the revisionism in 1960 while strongly criticizing its ideology. Mao and Khrushchev criticized each other in public. Mao was very bitter that the new leadership of the Soviet Union was adopting an ideology that could not help the nation to continue recording positive achievements in terms of industrialization (Morton and Lewis 68). However, when the leadership of the Soviet Union was toppled in 1964, Mao developed some that he too could be overthrown by members of his party because of his continued decline of support.

The Cultural Revolution

The “May 16 Notification” clearly stated the views of Mao about the Cultural Revolution. Specifically, the letter stated that the enemies of communism were with the party. Although the leaders welcomed the assertion that comes operatives were capitalists, they were taken aback when Mao claimed that Peng Zhen was among the leaders in the party who were anti-communist. Peng was a respected leader among the educated class of the Peoples’ Republic of China (Schoppa 40). Mao purged Zhen from the party’s leadership. His action caused protests in urban areas in China. Even the Beijing Party Committee stopped to conduct its normal functions. Finally, the top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party endorsed the Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The party’s committee argued that the revolution could bring real changes in the country. Students were used to mobilizing the people of China to demonstrate and call for the adoption of the Cultural Revolution.

Even the police officers who tried to stop the activities of the students were labeled by Mao and colleagues as anticommunists. The leadership of China’s Communist Party oppressed all people who were against the ideology of communism and used protesting students who mobilized the people to support the views of Mao. Mao died in 1976, and this could mark the end of the Cultural Revolution in China (Morton and Lewis 88). Hua was left at the top leadership of the political party because Mao had seen a great leader in him. All along, Mao was confident that communism could be the ideal ideology that could lead to improved and sustained development in China. The philosophy was adopted by the other party members who helped him to organize students to take part in mass movements. His ideology could have received better backing from the people of China if he used better ways of telling them the advantages of the economic ideology (Morton and Lewis 90).

The aftermath

Policies and their impact

The policies adopted by the communist government of China during the Cultural Revolution resulted in major economic losses of the country. The impact of the policies was on the citizens of China. Many economic activities were halted, and the government incurred increased costs of funding students who were used to cause turmoil in the nation. Property worth million dollars were destroyed in the protests, and farmers could not concentrate on their productive farming ways. The education system was brought to a halt by the revolution. All university exams that were sat by prospective candidates to join the institutions of higher learning were canceled 1966. They only resumed after the death of Mao.

Many scholars who did not support the communist ideology fronted by Mao were forced to go to rural camps. Soon after the revolution, many scholars left the nation. The impact of the revolution on the education standards in China was so severe that the standards resumed in the 1980s. There was a lack of organization on the government side because many leaders were involved in fighting factions perceived to be within the leadership. They did not focus on helping the common citizen to live a better life. The students who were used to cause chaos were regarded as being senior to the police and army officers. They were above the law because they had the blessings of Mao (Morton and Lewis 101).

Cultural values were also lost in the struggle to adopt communism by Mao and colleagues. For example, Mao commanded students to criticize and question their parents, teachers, and guardians. This was against the traditions of the Chinese people. This led to the destruction of the cultural institutions associated with the Chinese people (Morton and Lewis 110).

Ethnic minorities

The revolution spearheaded by Mao caused much suffering to minority ethnic groups in China. People were persecuted; some were beaten to death while others were maimed. They underwent untold suffering that could not be explained by the architects of communism. It is not the ideology of communism that caused the suffering by the people so that they could accept the principle, but the people who were forcing millions of citizens to adopt the ideology (Morton and Lewis 57).

Historical sites

During the revolution, historical sites were damaged because they were viewed as symbols of the “old thinking.” It was estimated that China lost historical materials worth millions of dollars. It was even confirmed that some precious historical materials were smuggled abroad for sale. The relics were not damaged by the Communist Party, but by other people who did not understand the importance of historical relics of a country. The central committee of the party assured supporters that it was the vision of the party to protect historical relics. However, the assurance by the committee contradicted the message contained in the document that was prepared by the committee and which precipitated the revolution in 1966. In a country whose leadership aim to adopt communism, they should not be marked by double speak.


The revolution marked the end of many artists whose work was perceived to be anti-communist. If they were not persecuted, then they were not allowed to work in China. Also, songs were composed and helped to pass the message of the revolution. Therefore, it could be disastrous for a person to be heard singing a song that did not promote communism (Morton and Lewis 80; Schoppa 57).


The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was a political undertaking that was based on the ideology of communism among the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. The ideology was spearheaded by Mao used the revolutionary tactics to influence millions of people to believe that the new political and economical ideology could result in unrivaled economic development supported by industrialization and improved agricultural output. He used students who seemed to be more senior than the police and army officers. The students were above the law because they caused much damage without the fear of being punished by the law. The students were also used to mobilize people in both urban and rural areas to protest the old way of governance and adopt the communist ideology that could ensure uniform development and social achievement by every member of the society. Based on the findings of this paper, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) caused much suffering to the Chinese people. It was characterized by killings, damage of property, political persecutions, and cessation of education systems in the country. The revolution did not benefit the people of China, and it was a waste of time advancing the ideology of communism that did not have a solid platform for execution.

Works Cited

Chen, Jie, and Peng Deng. China since the cultural revolution: From totalitarianism to authoritarianism. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995. Print.

Lull, James. China turned on: Television, reform and resistance. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Morton, William Scott, and Charlton M. Lewis. China: Its history and culture. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Print.

Schoppa, R. Keith. Revolution and its past: Identities and change in modern Chinese history. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice hall, 2011. Print.

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