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Mao Tsetung

Dare to scale the heights!

Bombard the Heaquarters!

Storm Heaven!

Serve the people!

Unity - Struggle - Unity

Unite the Many! Oppose the Few!

Combat revisionism!

The Red Guards: Hong Wei Bing

In 1966, millions of youth stormed the heavens during China's Cultural Revolution

Revolutionary Worker #966, July 19, 1998

When Bill Clinton went to China he lectured the Chinese people about "human rights and democracy." But the U.S. has propped up and sponsored death squads and brutal dictators all over the world and the CIA has been involved in fixed elections. Clinton criticized Chinese leaders for "rounding up dissidents." But in the U.S., political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal are locked up for their beliefs and Black, Latino and other poor youth are being systematically criminalized, brutalized by the police and imprisoned.

Clinton wants the Chinese people to believe that the capitalist free market will bring them "freedom and democracy." But this is a lie. For the masses of Chinese people, imperialist penetration and the free market has meant more inequality, a growing gap between the rich and poor, and deepening economic instability.

It is socialism--not capitalism--that brings the masses real liberation.

When the great revolutionary leader Mao Tsetung died in 1976, counter- revolutionaries seized power and brought capitalism back to China. But for over 25 years China was a socialist country.

Under the leadership of Mao, the masses of people participated in the revolutionary struggle to transform society--to do away with classes, all inequalities and oppression. And during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, millions of students, workers, and peasants were mobilized to expose and kick out high-level authorities and party leaders who were trying to take China down the capitalist road.

Mao pointed out that even with new socialist relations there were leftovers from bourgeois society and the basis for inequalities. He pointed out that the basic divisions continue to exist in socialist society: between mental and manual labor, between town and country, and between workers and peasants. He said that a new bourgeoisie continually arises under socialism-- concentrated at the highest levels of the party--and that class struggle continues under socialism, all the way to the elimination of all classes and the establishment of communism on a world scale.

With the Cultural Revolution, Mao developed the basic form and method to revolutionize the party and carry forward the transformation of all of society-- unleashing the conscious revolutionary activism of the masses to topple the bourgeoisie inside the party. This struggle to prevent the restoration of capitalism was a giant leap for the worldwide revolutionary struggle.

The following story of the Red Guards shows how millions of youth were mobilized during the Cultural Revolution to ignite and spread the class struggle. This is a story of proletarian democracy in action.

August 18, 1966, 32 years ago, the Red Guards made their first public appearance with a rally of a million in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Battalions of youth, enlisting in the Cultural Revolution, march by singing, "Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman." Mao Tsetung approvingly reviews these new fighters and puts on a Red Guard armband, emblazoned with the three characters "Hong Wei Bing." From dawn to noon he greets the Red Guards, encouraging their enthusiasm, their critical questioning--leading them to carry on the revolution within the revolution.


Events of intense class struggle led up to the emergence of the Red Guards. At Beijing University tens of thousands of wall posters (dazibaos) had gone up, and hot debate and political struggle had quickly become the curriculum. On August 5 Mao had issued his own dazibao, urging the youth to "Bombard the Headquarters"--to criticize and oppose those in positions of power who were trying to take China down a capitalist road. The "Sixteen Point Decision" had also just come out. An extremely important document from the Eleventh Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee (convened on August 1), these 16 points would become guiding principles for carrying on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. They spoke to the important role of the youth and served as a call for more rebellious elements to jump into the fray: "Large numbers of revolutionary young people, previously unknown, have become courageous and daring pathbreakers. They are vigorous in action and intelligent. Through the media of big-character posters and great debates, they argue things out, expose and criticize thoroughly, and launch resolute attacks on the open and hidden representatives of the bourgeoisie. In such a great revolutionary movement, it is hardly avoidable that they should show shortcomings of one kind or another, but their main revolutionary orientation has been correct from the beginning. This is the main current in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It is the main direction along which the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution continues to advance."

Mao had added to this in a personal letter: "It is right to rebel against reactionaries.... I offer you my warm support...." The youth, with their spontaneity and daring spirit, were being relied on to be a catalyst--a force to bring millions of others in society into the crucial struggle to prevent the restoration of capitalism.

On a Grand Scale in Beijing

At Beijing University the struggle grew, drawing others in from afar. The university gates were flung open and hundreds of thousands of people streamed in--some simply curious, others eager to listen, many itching to bring their own experiences into the struggle. The peasants came in their best clothes from the communes (the collective farming/political system). Many had not dreamed of crossing the threshold of the university. Now they were warmly greeted by the students. Crowds grew and huge debates formed and reformed all over the huge campus and well into the night. Loudspeakers were set up. But where people could not hear, the students formed relays to explain to the crowds what was going on. As one student told a visiting Westerner: "Now that we dare to speak, dare to act, it's wonderful! We've never felt like this before." The huge dazibaos continued, as criticisms, accusations, and quotations from Mao hung in the corridors, classrooms, from makeshift walls, the ceiling and even on the pavement.

In age the Red Guards varied from 12 to 30, with the high school students, 12 to 17 years old, in the majority. They organized themselves into sections and detachments, set up headquarters at the provincial and municipal levels, and elected their leaders who were constantly subject to recall.

One youth from America was attending high school in Beijing during this time and took part in the activities of the Red Guards. In a 1968 interview he described what it was like as he was drawn into the struggle at Beijing University: "Just as the people from my high school went to Beijing University to find out what was happening, people in other cities had that same yearning to come to Beijing. They had heard about all these groovy people out in the streets, making revolution, following Chairman Mao, you got a right to rebel. So they came. Our school had 1,800 regular students. All of a sudden, there were 7,000 more from Tianjin, living all over the place. We figured we could spread the revolution by going outside of Beijing. The Central Committee decided that it was a good idea for us to travel. They figured that the educational system can only be changed by the students themselves. And that students can't make the educational system serve the people unless they know who they're serving.... The original idea was to keep some students in Beijing to keep up the struggle there and send other groups out to exchange experiences. But everybody wanted to go and everybody left. I stayed a little longer and helped set up depots for people, supplying blankets and food for everyone coming in. The population of Beijing is five million. Three and a half million more came. There was absolute chaos, but nobody starved. There were places for everyone to sleep, if not in a school, then in someone's home. People stayed for two or three months."

At this point, there was no stopping the Red Guard youth. Between August and November Mao would greet rallies of a million Red Guards eight times. At any given time up to two million "visitors" added to Beijing's population--some thirteen million youth in all during this period invaded the capital, heeding Mao's call: "Let the rest of the country come to Beijing, or Beijing go to the rest of the country...." The People's Liberation Army was instructed to facilitate the youth, and with the help of the local population they made arrangements for food, lodging and transportation. Six thousand trucks alone were secured and put at the disposal of the youth.

The youth came from all over. All day long processions wound their way through the streets as loudspeakers resounded from every direction. Banners were unfurled, posters went up, and Red Guards passed out leaflets and newspapers as shifting knots of debate occupied every corner. Jean Daubier, in his book A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, described the lively scene in the streets of Beijing during this time: "There was a new look in the city streets: young, booted Mongolians dressed in long belted tunics strode side by side with Uigurs from faraway Sinkiang, with their bright, shimmering provincial costumes. Among the Red Guards from the western region of China, which for centuries has been the crossroads of various migrations, one could see, next to local types, close to the Turks ethnically, a smattering of blue-eyed blonds. There were also slight Tibetans, their faces tanned by the mountain winds, wrapped in their multicolored coats and wearing broad-brimmed felt hats similar to those worn by the Indians of Peru. Stores and buses, gardens and restaurants resounded with various accents and dialects."

One of the first efforts of the Red Guards was to expose and tear down feudal and capitalist remnants. They took down the names of streets and store signs which derived from or evoked memory of Imperial China--making the political point that feudal influences still persisted and had to be consciously combated. The revolutionary youth left their red mark wherever they went. When they went through the city of Shenyang (formerly Mukden) the city's name was changed on the railway station's signboard. Shenyang, when written with the abbreviated character for the first syllable, could mean "set sun"--the Red Guards changed the city's name to "Hungyang" which means "red sun." The Red Guards also confiscated things like hidden pistols, gold bars, silver coins, Kuomintang flags (from the overthrown reactionary government) and old property deeds--indications that certain elements in society were not only pining for the "old days" but actually "waiting in the wings," in support of a capitalist restoration.

In the schools the youth set out to revolutionize the whole educational system. They strongly criticized the old curriculum and methods of teaching which stressed abstract lessons divorced from practice. And they attacked administrators who had been responsible for turning schools into incubators for elite technocrats and privileged academicians. This proposal from a group of students was printed in the People's Daily:

  1. "As soon as the Great Cultural Revolution ends, all those students who have done at least two years in the Arts faculties will be graduated ahead of time and assigned to take part in the three great revolutionary movements of class struggle, the struggle for production, and scientific experimentation, and will for a long time unreservedly integrate themselves with the workers, peasants, and soldiers.
  2. "The Arts faculties must use Mao Tsetung's works as teaching material and take class struggle as the subject of profound study.
  3. "From now on the Arts faculties should change their course of study to one, two, or three years, in accordance with Chairman Mao's instructions and the requirements of the country. In addition, a certain amount of time each year should be devoted to taking part in factory or farm work, military drill, and class struggle in society.
  4. "In teaching methods, the stress should be on self-education and discussion. Teachers should give adequate tutoring, practice the democratic method of teaching, follow the mass line, and resolutely abolish the cramming method of teaching.
  5. " From now on the colleges should enroll new students from among young people who have tempered themselves in the three great revolutionary movements, whose ideology is progressive, and who have reached a certain educational level, and not necessarily just from those who have been through senior middle school. This will enable great numbers of outstanding workers, former poor and lower-middle peasants, and demobilized army men to be admitted to college."

(From "Proposals to the Party Central Committee and Chairman Mao Concerning the Introduction of a Completely New Academic System of Arts Faculties in Universities.")

Taking Beijing
to the Rest of the Country

The revolutionary leadership of the Communist Party encouraged the Red Guards to "take Beijing to the rest of the country"--to travel throughout China's vast countryside, to spread their revolutionary fervor and draw millions more into the class struggle. Especially after Mao's reception of the Red Guards in Tiananmen Square in August, the radio and telephone had spread news of the struggle at Beijing University to the outlying provinces. But now the youth were dispatched far and wide to carry and spread this struggle in a concrete and practical way--to have exchanges of revolutionary experiences. Special measures were taken to facilitate these "big link-ups." The People's Liberation Army was instructed to continue to assist the Red Guard youth in their travels, and transportation systems were instructed to allow the youth free passage. Millions and millions of youth began traversing China's huge countryside. All available old wagons, locomotives, boats...whatever were brought into service, and in some cases trains were even taken over and diverted from their intended routes.

Some Red Guards traveled considerable distances. They set out on "long marches" of 600 miles and more, stopping along the way in factories and communes, intent on spreading the rebellion. Later, when the Red Guards were encouraged to stop using the trains because transport was being so disrupted, they traveled hundreds of miles on foot to places as far as Manchuria and Tibet.

The youth not only wanted to share their experiences in waging the class struggle on the campuses, they also urged the masses to take a careful look at the Party officials in their own area, make use of dazibaos, and organize to resist revisionist bureaucrats who would try to sabotage the struggle and keep from being exposed. Everywhere the Red Guards went their weapons also went with them--copies of the "Red Book" (Quotations from Mao Tsetung) as well as the "Sixteen Points" document. The youth also printed up propaganda on the spot--utilizing small portable presses that became one of their trademarks.

In such a way, millions of people became a crucial part of carrying out the Cultural Revolution. On a truly mass scale the people's conscious activism was mobilized to dig out and target capitalist roaders. And in the process they deepened their own understanding of the necessity, and how, to wage the class struggle under socialism.

One account, in Jan Myrdal and Gun Kessle's book, China: The Revolution Continued, captures the effect the Red Guards had when they visited the communes. Fu Hai-tsao in Liu Ling village was interviewed about his experience with the Red Guards: "It was in the autumn of 1966 that the Red Guards came here. First, seven of them. The second time, ten. From September to December, 1966, various Red Guards came here. Each group stayed for a week or ten days. That was how the cultural revolution began among us.

"The Red Guards came with the book of quotations. They read out to us quotations we'd never heard before. They made speeches and arranged discussions. We welcomed them by beating on drums. They came to us in our caves. We warmed the kang [bed with a compartment that can be warmed up with a fire] for them, so they shouldn't catch cold. They paid their way. All of them.... The Red Guards were well organized. They divided themselves up and visited every household in the village. They read quotations and told us about the cultural revolution in Beijing and Shanghai. Never before had we had so many strangers in the village. They asked us about our lives. They wanted to learn from us. They asked us how we were managing things here in the brigade [large collective work unit]. They entered into discussions with the leading cadres of the brigade and, at open meetings, asked about work-points [work credits which determined one's pay] and so forth.

"I got the book of quotations from them. They distributed it to various households. In the end we all had it. Those Red Guards meant a lot to us. And we went on reading the quotations after they'd gone. We read, and compared the quotations with what was being done here at Liu Ling, and came to the conclusion that a lot of things needed changing. Those who couldn't read the quotations themselves had them read to them aloud."

Another peasant, Mau Pei-hsin, recounted: "Well, the first time I ever met the Red Guards I didn't really understand them. I wondered what they'd come here for. I wondered what business they had to be here. But I talked to them. We discussed the matter. And then I understood that they had come here as the voice of Chairman Mao and the Party's Central Committee.

"Until the Red Guards arrived I hadn't read the quotations. I'd only heard about the works of Chairman Mao. But they were hard to get hold of. They were expensive too. Nor were they all that easy to read. That was why it was so important to me to get hold of the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung. I studied it closely. After I'd read it, I plucked up courage and wrote my first big character poster. And stuck it up outside on the wall."

Indeed, the propaganda weapons of the Red Guards were indispensable. After the Eleventh Plenum the Central Committee had decided to reprint Mao's Red Book, and starting in August 1966 hundreds of millions of copies were printed and disseminated throughout the country. Red Guard meetings, whether mass meetings or small groups, studied and struggled over Mao's works as well as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. The publication figures for 1967 indicate the extensive role this propaganda played in the struggle: Selected Works of Mao Tsetung--86 million copies; Quotations from Mao Tsetung--350 million; Selected Readings--48 million; Poems--57 million.

The Red Guards also invaded the factories, many times disrupting production. They would come at any hour unannounced, move right into the work sections, and organize on-the-spot meetings. From these actions, workers began to follow the example of the Red Guards and organized various types of revolutionary organizations. Paper and ink for big character posters was made available in work areas at no cost and vehicles were assigned to various sectors or offices to be put at the disposal of "rebels." The cost of printing leaflets, installing speakers and arranging meetings was also covered by the various local offices and factories.

Mao had pointed out that the activities of the students could not, in themselves, be decisive. From his point of view the youth could play the role of catalyst, but only the workers and peasants, politically mobilized, were in a position to shift the balance of power and decisively seize back positions of power from those who were trying to bring back capitalism. So it was extremely significant when revolutionary organizations among the proletariat began to emerge and subsequently play a leading role in continuing the Cultural Revolution.

It's Right to Rebel
Against Reactionaries

The Red Guards enthusiastically took up the task of exposing reactionaries. While local revisionists were criticized, those in high party positions taking the capitalist road were particularly targeted. But this was not just a question of naming people and then kicking them out of office. Struggle and study was carried out in order for the masses to deepen their understanding of the political and ideological line questions.

The walls, shop windows, even the sidewalks were covered with posters, big-character slogans and caricatures. Streets would be decorated and parades would march to the sound of gongs and drums. Festivities celebrated revolutionary victories--the transfer of power in a school, commune or factory. And in such instances signs would be posted on doors announcing the formation of a new revolutionary committee and victory over capitalist-roaders.

By early September the Red Guards had already encountered resistance. Some were attacked, in the name of Mao, by groups of workers and peasants who had been mobilized by capitalist-roaders in the Party. This reaction also became more organized. They formed groups, traveled, established their own outposts to obstruct the work of the Red Guards, and sent representatives to Beijing to bring their complaints to the Central Committee. "Repression is not allowed," Mao said when he heard of the attacks on the Red Guards. And he encouraged and supported the Red Guards to not allow such attacks to stop their rebellion: "In a big country like ours one should not be upset by the disturbances caused by a tempers the young...helps them to understand that the revolutionary road does not run smoothly."

The Red Guards eventually returned to their schools and continued to carry on struggle there. But in their travels they had mobilized millions to take up and battle out the key questions of waging the class struggle under socialism. Of course, more often than not, things had not been clear right away--those opposed to Mao would claim to uphold him and say they were the true revolutionaries. So the masses had to learn to distinguish what was revolutionary and what wasn't by deeply analyzing what was being said and then, most decisively, what was being done in practice. The important thing was getting beneath surface phenomena to the content and substance--whether things were being led in the direction of communism or in another direction, back toward capitalism.

Unprecedented in history, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution mobilized the masses on a truly grand scale--with the battle cry, Mao's statement that "It's right to rebel against reactionaries." With this, the high and wild Red Guards dared to throw out convention and, bravely defending the revolutionary line of Mao Tsetung, they carried the spirit and essential content of the Cultural Revolution to every part of the country.

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