Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Turbulent Decade

Turbulent Decade: A History of the Cultural Revolution

Yan Jiaqi
Gao Gao
Translated and edited by D. W. Y. Kwok
Copyright Date: 1996
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqvvt
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Turbulent Decade
    Book Description:

    Yan Jiaqi, one of the principal leaders of China's pro-democracy movement, and his wife, Gao Gao, a noted sociologist, set out to write a comprehensive narrative account of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, which occurred in the second decade after Mao Zedong and his comrades came to power. It appeared in Hong Kong in 1986, and was quickly banned by the Communist government. Not surprisingly, censorship and restricted circulation in China resulted in underground reproduction and serialization. The work was thus widely read, coveted, and appreciated by a populace who had just freed itself from the cultural drought and political dread of the event. Yan and Gao later spent two years revising and expanding their work. The present volume, Turbulent Decade: A History of the Cultural Revolution, is based on the revised edition and has been masterfully edited and translated by D.W.Y. Kwok in consultation with the authors. It makes available for the first time in English Yan and Gao's remarkable record of the traumatic Cultural Revolution decade and remains the only single-volume narrative history of the revolution written from an independent and personal perspective. It is a sweeping historical account, notable for its moral courage, for its empathy, for the significance of the questions it addresses, and for its sobering, ultimately tragic view of human behavior.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6531-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Translator’s Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    D. W. Y. Kwok
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
    D. W. Y. Kwok
  5. Preface to the Revised Edition
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    Yan Jiaqi and Gao Gao
  6. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
    Gao Gao
  7. Introduction: The Genesis of the Cultural Revolution
    (pp. 1-8)

    The uniqueness of the Cultural Revolution in twentieth-century Chinese history has led many to think that it was an unprecedented historical event. Actually, as humanity is in the end limited by its own capabilities, whatever the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution accomplished or destroyed has appeared at some other time or place. The cult of personality, for instance, had appeared in Soviet Russia during the Stalin era. In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev told the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress that, during the time of the personality cult, the people believed Stalin “was omniscient, all knowing, capable of thinking for all others and...

  8. PART ONE: The “Need for More Personality Cult”

    • Chapter 1 Criticizing Hai Rui Dismissed from Office
      (pp. 23-38)

      On November 10, 1965, Shanghai’sWenhui baoprominently ran an article by Yao Wenyuan entitled “Criticizing the New Historical DramaHai Rui Dismissed from Office(Hai Rui baguan).¹ Toward the end of the article, Yao wrote,

      What is the real intent of this big-character poster about a play calledHai Rui Dismissed?What effect does it have on us Chinese of this socialist age? To answer this question, we must look into the background of this piece of work. We all know that, in 1961, after economic difficulties caused by three years of natural disasters and amidst the high tide...

    • Chapter 2 The Struggle around the Question of the Work Groups
      (pp. 39-55)

      The criticism ofHai Rui Dismissedled to the dissolution of the Beijing Party Committee headed by Peng Zhen, the first casualty of battle among the followers of Mao Zedong, an event prefatory to the Cultural Revolution.

      The May 16 Circular states,

      The representatives of the capitalist class who have infiltrated our Party, our government, our armed forces, and various cultural groups are actually a batch of counterrevolutionary revisionists. When the time is right, they will try to seize power, turning the dictatorship of the proletariat into one of the capitalist class. Some of these people have already been exposed...

    • Chapter 3 The Rise of the Red Guards and the Cult of the Individual
      (pp. 56-64)

      After the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, its path was often difficult and uneven. During its formative stages, the leadership of the Party erred in various ways, and Mao Zedong’s own early career was checkered. Mao was a Communist who, having selected Communism as a steadfast goal, fought for it with unwavering resolve. His abilities were gradually testified to by the experiences of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1935 at the Zunyi Conference, when Mao was elected as a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and, subsequently, as one of the Three-Person Military Command, both actions placed...

    • Chapter 4 “Declaring War on the Old World”
      (pp. 65-84)

      At the Mass Meeting Celebrating the Cultural Revolution, Lin Biao exhorted the Red Guards to “defeat thoroughly all exploitative old thought, old culture, old customs, and old practices,” and he exhorted the people to support the Red Guards in “their proletarian rebellious spirit of daring to storm, daring to do, and daring to overthrow.” The prime movers of the Cultural Revolution made use of the simplicity, ignorance, curiosity, and impulsiveness of young students. In Beijing from August 19 on, they started an unprecedented Destroy the Four Olds(po sijiu)movement, which spread rapidly throughout the country. For a while the...

    • Chapter 5 Nationwide Networking
      (pp. 85-92)

      When the seven-person poster by Nie Yuanzi appeared in thePeople’s Daily,many people were attracted to the torch of the Cultural Revolution lit by Mao Zedong. In Beijing, Beijing University and other schools attracted waves of enthusiasts who in turn came away to tell the world what they had seen.

      Following the entry into the schools of the work groups accompanied by the Eight Directives of the Central Committee, which replaced the Party committees in such institutions, a wedge appeared between those within the institution charged with handling internal institutional affairs and those sent in from the outside. This...

    • Chapter 6 “Bombarding the Command Post”
      (pp. 93-100)

      After the Sixteen Points were made public, many people began directing criticism at the work groups. Those who had received the brunt of retaliation by work groups were especially excited, and the situation for the work groups in retreat was increasingly awkward and difficult. In compliance with the spirit of the “Notice of the Beijing Party Committee concerning the Withdrawal of Work Groups from Universities and Middle Schools,” the “complete withdrawal of all work-group personnel within two or three days” was formally announced in Beijing on August 12, 1966.

      In quick order, after simple accounting and inspection, the work groups...

    • Chapter 7 Currents of Boycott and Resistance
      (pp. 101-115)

      The tumultuous action brought on by the political fever and “red terror” of the Cultural Revolution did not indicate unity of thought and action on the part of the people vis-à-vis the Cultural Revolution. As the Central Small Group waved banners and urged people to storm barricades, currents of boycott and resistance to the Cultural Revolution remained.

      By the end of July 1966, the Cultural Revolution had reached the point where the two highest cadres of any unit were to be struggled with as “black gang” elements. This Mao-supported anti–work groups struggle caused many old revolutionaries, who were by...

    • Chapter 8 From “Down with Tao Zhu” to Retaliating against the February Adverse Current
      (pp. 116-132)

      Before the Cultural Revolution, Tao Zhu was deputy premier of the State Council and first secretary of the Central-South Bureau of the Central Committee. In May 1966, during the enlarged meeting of the Politburo, Tao Zhu also became secretary of the Party Central Secretariat. At the same meeting, Lu Dingyi was criticized and dismissed as minister of propaganda, a post that went to Tao Zhu. Tao Zhu was appointed to the Central Small Group shortly after its establishment. In August 1966, during the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Party Congress and the reordering of the standing members of the Politburo,...

    • Chapter 9 Drowning amidst Struggles
      (pp. 133-151)

      The Retaliation against the February Adverse Current endangered the position of many of China’s leaders at the highest level. Their lips were sealed. The brave ones among them like Tan Zhenlin were wounded, and the possibility of showing courage by saying a few words in behalf of Liu Shaoqi no longer existed.

      Before examining the entrapment of Wang Guangmei, let us recall a few of Liu Shaoqi’s experiences on the eve of the retaliation against the February Adverse Current. Although 1966 had been a year of “Down with Liu and Deng,” a formal process had to be used wherein they...

    • Chapter 10 The Last Days of Liu Shaoqi
      (pp. 152-166)

      Qi Benyu’s article querying patriotism and betrayal laid the foundation for bringing down Liu Shaoqi. But to erase Liu’s influence in the minds of the Chinese people required other actions.

      Violence had broken out in such provinces and cities as Qinghai, Wuhan, Hunan, Henan, Inner Mongolia, Chengdu, Fujian, Xinjiang, Tibet, and the Northeast. Cliques and contradictions abounded. Although there were admonitions to engage only in civil struggle(wendou),not in martial struggle(wudou),and stern prohibition against beating, robbery, confiscation, and summary arrest, none was enough to stem the tide of feelings among the people. The only rationality at this...

  9. PART TWO: The Rise and Fall of Lin Biao

    • Chapter 11 A Shortcut to the Peak of Power
      (pp. 179-183)

      Lin Biao, born in 1907, was fourteen years younger than Mao Zedong. In 1925, at the age of eighteen, Lin joined the Chinese Communist Party and later participated in the famous Long March. He had been at various times president of the Resist Japan Military and Political University (Kangda), commander of the 115th Division of the Eighth Route Army, and commanding officer of the Fourth Field Army. In 1954, he was a deputy premier of the State Council, and in 1955, he was made a member of the Politburo at the Fifth Plenum of the Seventh Party Congress. In 1958,...

    • Chapter 12 Eliminating Opponents of the Peak Theory
      (pp. 184-192)

      In Lin Biao’s inexorable climb to the peak of power, his extreme practice of the personality cult and parading of the “Peak Theory”(dingfenglun)slogan earned him the disapprobation of the chief of the General Staff, Luo Ruiqing,¹ who in turn became the first victim among those of similar views.

      Luo Ruiqing came from Nanchong, Sichuan Province. During the early days of the First Revolutionary War,² he had joined the student movement. In 1926, he joined the Communist Youth Corps as well as enrolled at the Wuhan Branch of the Huangpu Military Academy. In 1928, he became a member of...

    • Chapter 13 Climbing the Leadership Ladder
      (pp. 193-196)

      On May 4, 1966, the Politburo convened an enlarged meeting to discuss the questions of Peng Zhen, Lu Dingyi, Luo Ruiqing, and Yang Shangkun. After the May 16 Circular was passed on the morning of May 18 with Mao as chairman, Lin Biao made what was in practical terms the concluding speech of the meeting. Aside from making conclusions about Peng, Luo, Lu, and Yang, and in a effort to please Mao, Lin devoted most of his talk to political power and political coups, praising Mao’s genius as above that of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. He said,

      Every day that...

    • Chapter 14 The Frenzy of False Accusations and Persecutions
      (pp. 197-247)

      The Cultural Revolution was a time of abrupt changes in the power relations of the Chinese polity. These changes trampled the constitution and the laws of China. To fortify their positions and gain ever more power, Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, and the members of the Central Small Group used the heat of the Cultural Revolution to unleash a frenzy of false accusations and persecutions. From the Central to the regions, Mao believed that there was an organized “Headquarters of Capitalism” and that to topple this headquarters, Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Tao Zhu, Peng Zhen, Luo Ruiqing, Lu Dingyi, and Yang...

    • Chapter 15 Shackling, Attacking, and Oppressing the People
      (pp. 248-284)

      Lin Biao’s energetic promotion of the cult of Mao Zedong not only gained him power next only to that of Mao, but also caused Chinese society to be perverted by the noxious fumes of this personality cult. Reason is humankind’s most precious possession. Even though the personality cult did not entirely eradicate this rationality, it certainly choked it off in the political realm, for it prevented the population from making lucid judgments about existing politics. Thus, as the Cultural Revolution began at the same time that Lin Biao rose with the personality cult, Chinese politics entered into a madness in...

    • Chapter 16 Lin Biao’s Rein on the Armed Forces
      (pp. 285-301)

      As Lin Biao’s position moved upward, his desire for authority also burgeoned. His toadies and henchmen multiplied in number and raised their own positions. During the Cultural Revolution Lin made clever use of Jiang Qing and, while expanding the military’s influence, became bolder in forming his cabals. Huang Yongsheng, Wu Faxian, Li Zuopeng, Qiu Huizuo, Jiang Tengjiao, and even his own wife and son became the mainstays of his claque and cabal.

      During land reform, Lin Biao was regimental commander of the Chinese Worker-Peasant Red Army’s First Regiment; Huang Yongsheng was also at one time its commander as well as...

    • Chapter 17 The Lushan Conference [1970]
      (pp. 302-309)

      According to the Chinese Communist Party Constitution, those elected to the National Party Congress and the Central Committee of the Party were to serve five-year terms.¹ The Central Committee was to be elected by the Party Congress. The Central Politburo and its Standing Committee and the chairman and deputy chairman of the Central Committee were to be elected by the plenum of the Central Committee. The constitution further stipulated that, during the recess of the National Party Congress, the Central Committee of the Party would lead all work of the Party, and the Politburo and its Standing Committee would carry...

    • Chapter 18 The United Flotilla and the 5–7–1 Project
      (pp. 310-317)

      Although the 1970 Lushan Conference spelled the failure of Lin Biao’s plan to become president of the country, his thirst for more power was beyond quenching. He knew clearly that, even though the Lushan Conference had concluded with the exposure of Chen Boda, in Mao’s eyes the struggle between Lin Biao and Mao Zedong had only begun. After the Lushan Conference, then, the Lin-Mao struggle was to develop, with Lin Biao’s actions intermittently obvious and obscure, but always fed by his persistent lusting for the highest power.

      Lin Biao had long before laid plans for attaining the highest power. At...

    • Chapter 19 The Failure of the Lin Biao Coup
      (pp. 318-326)

      Just as Lin Biao and Lin Liguo began their armed coup, the Party Central, acting on Mao’s directive, sent personnel to participate in the office work of the Military Commission in April 1971, thus thwarting Lin’s unilateral control of that office. Meanwhile, on April 15, a ninety-nine-person meeting consisting of Party Central, local, and armed forces personnel was held to constitute the Conference Reporting on Criticizing Chen and Conducting Rectification. Lin Biao was concerned and alarmed. That afternoon from Beidaihe, Lin Biao asked Ye Qun to telephone Wu Faxian asking him and Huang Yongsheng to make a daily report of...

    • Chapter 20 The September 13 Incident and Death of Lin Biao
      (pp. 327-336)

      Even as Lin Liguo plotted the assassination, Lin Biao and Ye Qun were planning an escape to the south. They repeatedly spread rumors of Lin Biao “wanting to move,” “needing to ride airplanes just for moving about,” “wishing to go to Dalian,” “planning to return to Beijing before National Day.” They also had Lin Liheng go to Beidaihe on the pretext of her engagement, so the entire family could make its move together. Lin Liguo told his sister, Liheng, of the plan to escape to the Soviet Union, saying that it was Ye Qun’s plan and that Lin Biao at...

  10. PART THREE: Jiang Qing and the Politics of the Cultural Revolution

    • Chapter 21 New Life Created by the Cultural Revolution
      (pp. 351-355)

      During the entire course of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, Jiang Qing, former film star, was extremely active. She deserved to be called a “political star.”

      On March 24, 1968, Lin Biao spoke about Jiang Qing during a meeting of ten thousand officers held in the Great Hall of the People:

      Comrade Jiang Qing is an extraordinary woman comrade and a prominent leading cadre in our Party. Her thinking is very revolutionary and she has enthusiastic revolutionary passion; she has her own ideas; she is politically sensitive; she is good at discovering problems and solving them. Little known...

    • Chapter 22 Special Cases, Forced Confessions, Fabricated Proof
      (pp. 356-365)

      The most unjust case fabricated during the Cultural Revolution was that against Liu Shaoqi. During that period, Liu Shaoqi experienced libel, assault, and loss of personal freedom. Since Liu Shaoqi was deputy chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and president of the People’s Republic of China, any judgment passed on him had to be adopted, at least nominally, by the plenary session of the Central Committee. Thus a Special Investigative Committee of the Party Central was set up in May 1967 to prepare an “investigative report” on Liu Shaoqi for the plenary session. This committee resorted to all sorts of...

    • Chapter 23 Erasing the Stains of the 1930s
      (pp. 366-374)

      All of Jiang Qing’s contemporaries knew that in the 1930s she had been a Shanghai film star with the stage name of Lan Ping. In 1934, Jiang Qing became famous overnight by playing the leading role in Ibsen’s well-known playA Doll’s House.Subsequently, she gained considerable notoriety because of her romantic entanglement with and then break-up with Tang Na.¹ In October 1937, she went to Yan’an, where Kang Sheng introduced her to Mao Zedong, whom she married in 1939. At that time she formally adopted the name of Jiang Qing. However, a part of her history was not known...

    • Chapter 24 Escalation of Armed Struggle
      (pp. 375-395)

      As soon as it began, the Cultural Revolution distinguished itself from all the previous political movements and campaigns with its strong tinge of “revolutionary insurrection.” In hisInvestigative Report of the Hunan Peasant Movementof 1927, Mao Zedong said, “A revolution is not painting pictures. It can’t be that refined, that tolerant, that gentle, that good-natured, that respectful. A revolution is a riot; it’s a violent movement in which one class overthrows another class.” During the Cultural Revolution, this quotation of Mao became a popular slogan. When the “capitalist-roaders” and “reactionary gangs” were being criticized and denounced, good naturedness and...

    • Chapter 25 Arts Criticism and the “Revolution of Beijing Opera”
      (pp. 396-402)

      In the summer of 1968, after a full two years of conflicts between mass organizations, the zeal among the people was gradually cooling with the establishment of revolutionary committees on the levels of province, municipal, and autonomous regions in China; the implementation of Three Supports and Two Militaries;¹ the assignment of the most radical university graduates and middle-school students to the countryside and the widespread campaign to rectify the class ranks. Only Lin Biao and Jiang Qing were still applying themselves to the realization of their respective goals.

      From the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing boasted about herself...

    • Chapter 26 The September 13 Incident and the “Trough”
      (pp. 403-429)

      Waving the flag of the “model dramas,” Jiang Qing used literature and the arts to expand her influence. However, she remained inferior to Lin Biao in political position. Although she had her special status, she needed Lin Biao to “give her a hand.” A subtle relationship existed between the groups of Jiang Qing and Lin Biao. On one hand, the two groups had a common goal; on the other, they had their respective interests. They were cooperating but, at the same time, dragging each other down. Just before the Party’s Ninth Congress, their struggles for their respective interests increased. To...

    • Chapter 27 “Criticize Lin Biao, Confucius, and the Duke of Zhou”
      (pp. 430-452)

      In May 1973, Mao Zedong proposed to “criticize Confucius.” In response, Jiang Qing instructed Chi Qun and Xie Jingyi to write a booklet known asLin Biao and the Way of Confucius and Mencius,based on a cache of documents and materials left by Lin Biao in his Maojiawan residence. To give a new impetus to the Cultural Revolution, which had sunk into a deep trough after the September 13 Incident, Jiang intended to launch a nationwide campaign to a “criticize Lin Biao and Confucius.”

      On January 1, 1974,People’s Daily, Red Flag,andLiberation Army Dailypublished a joint...

    • Chapter 28 Deng Xiaoping’s Overall Rectification
      (pp. 453-481)

      The September 13 Incident of 1971 caused people to reflect deeply on the Cultural Revolution.

      Not long thereafter, on January 6, 1972, Marshal Chen Yi, a victim of the Cultural Revolution, died. On January 10 a solemn memorial ceremony was held. Mao Zedong participated; in meeting with Zhang Qian, Chen’s widow, Mao assured her that Chen Yi was a “good person” and a “good comrade.” He explained that Lin Biao had wanted to push out all the senior leaders like himself. He also mentioned that the mistake committed by Deng Xiaoping was in the nature of internal contradictions of the...

    • Chapter 29 The Tiananmen Square Incident [1976]
      (pp. 482-503)

      The publication of “The Direction of the Educational Revolution Cannot Be Altered” brought manifest changes in China’s political atmosphere. Mao Zedong put criticism of Deng Xiaoping on the agenda.

      Zhou Enlai in his capacity as premier strongly supported Deng Xiaoping’s work in rectifying the losses of the Cultural Revolution. His physical ability to play a role fell short of his wishes as a result of his undergoing six major and eight minor operations. While Zhou Enlai was hospitalized, Jiang Qing and company often went intentionally to interfere in his treatment. Deng Yingchao often asked them tearfully to let her husband...

    • Chapter 30 The Downfall of the Gang of Four
      (pp. 504-528)

      The suppression of the Tiananmen Square movement indicated that the people had no freedom of speech, not even freedom of expressing their grief. Mao Zedong knew very well that the countless poems in praise of Zhou Enlai were actually the people’s opposition to the practice of “personality cult.” Because Mao Zedong’s image had become sacred and inviolable during the Cultural Revolution, the people’s resentment at the Cultural Revolution and disgust at the Criticize Deng movement could only be expressed through denunciation of the crimes of Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen.

      Although the people’s movement in Tiananmen...

  11. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 529-532)

    The decade-long Cultural Revolution finally concluded on October 6, 1976. For China, the Cultural Revolution remains a colossal catastrophe in which human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and civilization itself were unprecedentedly trampled. Not only was the president persecuted to death, tens of millions of innocent people were also attacked and maltreated. According to a Xinhua News Agency report on the trial of Jiang Qing and others in November 1980, some 34,800 people were persecuted to death. This figure is probably an extremely conservative estimate. Culture was devastated, and the economy almost collapsed, falling 500 billion yuan short of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 533-562)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 563-578)
  14. Authors’ Bibliogarphy
    (pp. 579-610)
  15. Selected Further Readings
    (pp. 611-614)
  16. Index
    (pp. 615-659)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 660-660)