The Chinese government has removed references to former Communist leader Mao Zedong‘s “mistakes” during the Cultural Revolution from 8th grade school textbooks.
The old version of the textbook stated: “In the 1960s Mao Zedong mistakenly believed that the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party was engaging in revisionism, and that the Party and the country faced the danger of capitalist restoration. In order to prevent the restoration of capitalism, he decided to initiate the ‘Great Cultural Revolution'” (20世纪60年代，毛泽东错误地认为，党中央出了修正主义，党和国家面临着资本主义复辟的危险。为了防止资本主义复辟，他决定发动‘文化大革命’).
The new version of the textbook states: “In the mid-1960s Mao Zedong believed that the Party and the country faced the danger of capitalist restoration. Therefore, emphasizing the idea of ‘using class struggle as a principle’, he wanted to prevent the restoration of capitalism by initiating the ‘Great Cultural Revolution’. By the summer of 1966 the ‘Great Cultural Revolution’ had been fully launched” (20世纪60年代中期，毛泽东认为党和国家面临着资本主义复辟的危险。为此，他强调‘以阶级斗争为纲’，想通过发动‘文化大革命’来防止资本主义复辟。1966年夏，‘文化大革命’全面发动起来).
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping denounced the Cultural Revolution and personality cult as “mistakes”.
In a 1980 interview Deng Xiaoping said: “[B]efore the 1960s or the late 1950s many of [Mao’s] ideas brought us victories, and the fundamental principles he advanced were quite correct. He creatively applied Marxism-Leninism to every aspect of the Chinese revolution, and he had creative views on philosophy, political science, military science, literature and art, and so on. Unfortunately, in the evening of his life, particularly during the ‘Cultural Revolution,’ he made mistakes – and they were not minor ones – which brought many misfortunes upon our Party, our state, and our people.”
In June 1981, the Sixth Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adopted the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” The document stated that “the Party, the country and the people suffered from the most serious setbacks and the biggest loss during the ‘cultural revolution’, which lasted from May 1966 to October 1976, since the founding of the PRC”.
The Resolution called the Cultural Revolution a “civil turmoil” which “brought disastrous consequences to the Party, the country and the people.”
For decades the CCP’s official line was that Mao had made “mistakes” when he initiated the Cultural Revolution, although he was still revered as a hero.
However, since taking office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has downplayed the dark side of Mao’s rule. In 2017 a professor in Shandong province was fired after he criticized Mao online. This year China passed a law that makes criticizing revolutionary heroes and martyrs illegal.
After Deng Xiaoping relinquished China’s leadership, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao upheld the principle that Mao was the founding father of the PRC and of Chinese Marxism-Leninism, yet they were careful not to revive the personality cult. “Deng Xiaoping Theory is the best continuation and creative development of Mao Zedong Thought under the new historical conditions,” Jiang Zemin said in 2001. “It has made major contributions to creating a completely new situation in China’s cause of socialism.”
Upon taking over the country’s leadership, Xi Jinping began reframing the Mao debate. In 2013 he said: “Mao is a great figure who changed the face of the nation and led the Chinese people to a new destiny … The banner of Mao Zedong Thought could not be lost and losing it means a negation to the Party’s glorious history; The principle of holding high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought should not be wavered at any time and we will hold high the banner to advance forever.”
Xi did mention Mao’s “mistakes” in the speech, but he added that “complicated social and historical reasons both at home and abroad” were also responsible for those errors and that one “cannot use today’s conditions and level of development and understanding to judge our predecessors, nor can we expect the predecessors to have done things that only the successors can do.”
Xi Jinping and his father, Xi Zhongxun, were themselves victims of the Cultural Revolution.
Xi Zhongxun, a senior Communist Party official, was imprisoned and sent to work in a tractor factory. In 1969 Xi Jinping was sent to the poverty-stricken village of Liangjiahe, in Shaanxi province, as part of Mao Zedong’s campaign aimed at eradicating bourgeois thought among China’s urban youths by having them work in the countryside alongside peasants.
However, Xi has not denounced the ‘Cultural Revolution’ but rather made the Liangjiahe years a central part of his political hagiography and of Party propaganda.
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