Red Guards (China)

Red Guards (China)

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Red Guards were a mass movement of civilians, mostly students and other young people in the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 (PRC), who were mobilized by Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

.

Origins


The first students to call themselves "Red Guards" in China were a group of students at the Tsinghua University Middle School
High School attached to Tsinghua University
The High School Attached to Tsinghua University , or Tsinghua High School for short , is one of the most prestigious and historically-significant high schools in China, located in Beijing.-Translation of its Name:...

 who used the name Red Guards to sign two big-character poster
Big-character poster
Big-character posters are handwritten, wall-mounted posters using large-sized Chinese characters, used as a means of protest, propaganda, and popular communication. They have been used in China since imperial times, but became more common when literacy rates rose after the 1911 revolution...

s issued on May 25 and June 2 of 1966. The students believed that the criticism of the play Hai Rui Dismissed from Office
Hai Rui Dismissed from Office
Hai Rui Dismissed from Office is a theatre play notable for its involvement in Chinese politics during the Cultural Revolution.Wu Han, who wrote the play, was a historian who focused on the Ming Dynasty. Wu Han wrote an article portraying Hai Rui, a Ming minister who was imprisoned for criticizing...

was a political issue and needed greater attention. The group of students, led by Zhang Chengzhi
Zhang Chengzhi
Zhang Chengzhi is a contemporary Hui Chinese author. Often named as the most influential Muslim writer in China, his historical narrative History of the Soul, about the rise of the Jahriyya Sufi order , was the second-most popular book in China in 1994.-Biography:Zhang was born in Beijing in 1948...

 at Tsinghua University Middle School and Nie Yuanzi
Nie Yuanzi
Nie Yuanzi 聂元梓 is a Chinese academic who taught philosophy at Peking University. She is primarily known for her May 25, 1966 "Big-character poster" criticizing Peking University for being controlled by the "bourgeoise." This was a factor in the Cultural Revolution...

 at Peking University, originally wrote the posters as a constructive criticism of Tsinghua University
Tsinghua University
Tsinghua University , colloquially known in Chinese as Qinghua, is a university in Beijing, China. The school is one of the nine universities of the C9 League. It was established in 1911 under the name "Tsinghua Xuetang" or "Tsinghua College" and was renamed the "Tsinghua School" one year later...

 and Peking University's administration, which were accused of harboring "intellectual elitism" and "bourgeois" tendencies. However, they were denounced as "counter-revolutionaries" and "radicals" by the school administration and fellow students, and were forced to secretly meet amongst the ruins of the Old Summer Palace
Old Summer Palace
The Old Summer Palace, known in China as Yuan Ming Yuan , and originally called the Imperial Gardens, was a complex of palaces and gardens in Beijing...

. Nevertheless, Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 ordered that the manifesto of the Red Guards be broadcast on national radio and published in the People's Daily
People's Daily
The People's Daily is a daily newspaper in the People's Republic of China. The paper is an organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China , published worldwide with a circulation of 3 to 4 million. In addition to its main Chinese-language edition, it has editions in English,...

newspaper. This action gave the Red Guards political legitimacy, and student groups quickly began to appear across China.

Due to the factionalism already beginning to emerge in the Red Guard movement, Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi was a Chinese revolutionary, statesman, and theorist. He was Chairman of the People's Republic of China, China's head of state, from 27 April 1959 to 31 October 1968, during which he implemented policies of economic reconstruction in China...

 made the decision in early June 1966 to send in Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

 (CPC) work teams. These work groups were led by Zhang Chunqiao
Zhang Chunqiao
Zhang Chunqiao was a prominent Chinese political theorist, writer, and politician...

, head of China's Propaganda Department, and were the attempt by the Party to keep the movement under its control. Rival Red Guard groups led by the sons and daughters of cadres were formed by these work teams to deflect attacks away from those in positions of power towards bourgeois elements in society, mainly intellectuals. In addition, these Party-backed rebel groups also attacked students with 'bad' class backgrounds (these included the children of former landlords and capitalists). These actions were all attempts by the CPC to preserve the existing state government and apparatus.

Mao, concerned that these work teams were hindering the course of the Cultural Revolution, dispatched Chen Boda
Chen Boda
Chen Boda was born in 1904 in Hui'an and died on 20 September 1989 in Beijing.He was a member of the Chinese Communist Party, a secretary to Mao Zedong and a prominent member of the leadership during the Cultural Revolution, chairing the Cultural Revolution Group.-Early life:Chen Boda was born...

, Jiang Qing
Jiang Qing
Jiang Qing was the pseudonym that was used by Chinese leader Mao Zedong's last wife and major Communist Party of China power figure. She went by the stage name Lan Ping during her acting career, and was known by various other names during her life...

, Kang Sheng
Kang Sheng
Kang Sheng , Communist Party of China official, oversaw the work of the People's Republic of China's security and intelligence apparatus at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. He was a close associate of Mao Zedong and remained at or near the pinnacle of power for decades...

, and others to join the Red Guards and combat the work teams. In July 1966, Mao ordered the removal of the remaining work teams (against the wishes of Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi was a Chinese revolutionary, statesman, and theorist. He was Chairman of the People's Republic of China, China's head of state, from 27 April 1959 to 31 October 1968, during which he implemented policies of economic reconstruction in China...

) and condemned their 'fifty days of White Terror'. The Red Guards were now free to organise without the restrictions of the Party and, within a few weeks, on the encouragement of Mao's supporters, Red Guard groups had appeared in almost every school in China.

Role in the Cultural Revolution


On 18 August 1966, Mao met a million Red Guards formally in an audience given in Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is a large city square in the center of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen Gate located to its North, separating it from the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world...

, when he donned a Red Guard armband to demonstrate his support for the movement and its objectives. It was this rally that signified the beginning of the Red Guards' involvement in implementing the aims of the Cultural Revolution.

The 11th Plenum, which was meeting in August, had ratified the 'Sixteen Articles', a document that stated the aims of the Cultural Revolution and highlighted the role students would be asked to play in the movement. After the August rally, the Cultural Revolution Group directed the Red Guards to attack the 'Four Olds
Four Olds
The Four Olds or the Four Old Things were Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. One of the stated goals of the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China was to bring an end to the Four Olds...

' of Chinese society (old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas). For the rest of the year, Red Guards marched across China in a campaign to eradicate the 'Four Olds'. Old books and art were destroyed, museums were ransacked, and streets were renamed with new revolutionary names and adorned with pictures and the sayings of Mao. Many famous temples, shrines, and other heritage sites in Beijing were attacked.

However, attacks on culture quickly descended into attacks on people. Ignoring guidelines in the 'Sixteen Articles' that stipulated that persuasion rather than force were to be used to bring about the Cultural Revolution, officials in positions of authority and perceived 'bourgeois elements' were denounced and suffered physical and psychological attacks. Intellectuals were to suffer the brunt of these attacks. Many were ousted from official posts such as university teaching and allocated manual tasks such as "sweeping courtyards, building walls and cleaning toilets from 7am to 5pm daily" which would encourage them to dwell on past "mistakes". An official report in October 1966 reported that the Red Guards had already arrested 22,000 'counterrevolutionaries'. Occasionally, the Red Guards brought a large group of targeted people for firing squads, who left some randomly chosen people alive while others around them were shot. This "Chinese roulette" was said to leave a bullet of fear and repression inside the brain.

The Red Guards were also tasked with rooting out 'capitalist roaders' (those with supposed 'right wing' views) in positions of authority, This search was to extend to the very highest echelons of the CPC, with many top party officials, such as Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi was a Chinese revolutionary, statesman, and theorist. He was Chairman of the People's Republic of China, China's head of state, from 27 April 1959 to 31 October 1968, during which he implemented policies of economic reconstruction in China...

, Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping was a Chinese politician, statesman, and diplomat. As leader of the Communist Party of China, Deng was a reformer who led China towards a market economy...

 and Peng Dehuai
Peng Dehuai
Peng Dehuai was a prominent military leader of the Communist Party of China, and China's Defence Minister from 1954 to 1959. Peng was an important commander during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese civil war and was also the commander-in-chief of People's Volunteer Army in the Korean War...

 being attacked both verbally and physically by the Red Guards.
Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi
Liu Shaoqi was a Chinese revolutionary, statesman, and theorist. He was Chairman of the People's Republic of China, China's head of state, from 27 April 1959 to 31 October 1968, during which he implemented policies of economic reconstruction in China...

 was especially targeted, as he had taken Mao's seat as Chairman of the People's Republic following the debacle that was the Great Leap Forward
Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward of the People's Republic of China was an economic and social campaign of the Communist Party of China , reflected in planning decisions from 1958 to 1961, which aimed to use China's vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a modern...

. Although Mao stepped down from his post as a sign of accepting responsibility, he was angered that a Capitalist Roader
Capitalist roader
In Maoist thought, a capitalist roader or is a person or group who demonstrates a marked tendency to bow to pressure from Bourgeois forces and subsequently attempts to pull the Revolution in a capitalist direction....

 like Liu could take the reins of communist China.

However, the Red Guards were not to go about their activities completely unchallenged. The Red Guards were not permitted to enter Zhongnanhai
Zhongnanhai
Zhongnanhai is an area in central Beijing, China adjacent to the Forbidden City which serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the State Council of the People's Republic of China. The term Zhongnanhai is closely linked with the central government and senior Communist...

, the Forbidden City
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum...

, foreign Embassies, Friendship store
Friendship store
A Friendship Store is a state-run store in People's Republic of China , which initially sold exclusively to tourists, foreigners, diplomats, and government officials but now has no restrictions on customers.-History:...

s, or any military sensitive facilities. When Red Guards entered factories and other areas of production, they encountered resistance in the form of worker and peasant groups who were keen to maintain the status quo. In addition, there were bitter divisions within the Red Guard movement itself, especially along social and political lines. The most radical students often found themselves in conflict with more conservative Red Guards.

The leadership in Beijing
Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...

 also simultaneously tried to restrain and encourage the Red Guards, adding confusion to an already chaotic situation. On the one hand, the Cultural Revolution Group
Cultural Revolution Group
The Cultural Revolution Group was formed in May 1966 as a replacement organisation to the Central Committee Secretariat and the "Five Man Group", and was initially directly responsible to the Standing Committee of the Politburo...

 reiterated calls for non-violence, but on the other hand the People's Liberation Army
People's Liberation Army
The People's Liberation Army is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China...

 was told to assist the Red Guards with transport and lodging, and there were eight rallies in Tiananmen Square between the 18th August and the 26th November 1966 (in total, twelve million Red Guards traveled to see Mao
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 in these rallies). However, by the end of 1966, most of the Cultural Revolution Group were of the opinion that the Red Guards had become too much of a political liability. The campaign against 'capitalist-roaders' had led to anarchy, the Red Guards' actions had led to conservatism amongst China's workers, and the lack of discipline and the factionalism in the movement had made the Red Guards politically dangerous. 1967 would see the decision to dispel the student movement.

Factionalism within the Red Guards


"Enveloped in a trance of excitement and change", all student Red Guards pledged their loyalty to their beloved Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

.
Many worshipped Mao above everything and this was typical of a "pure and innocent generation".
Excited youths took inspiration from Mao's often vague pronouncements, generally believing the sanctity of his words and making serious efforts to figure out what they meant. Factions quickly formed based on individual interpretations of Mao's statements. All groups pledged loyalty to Mao and claimed to have his best interests in mind, yet they continually engaged in verbal and physical skirmishes all throughout the Cultural Revolution.

Youth from families with party-members and of revolutionary origin joined conservative factions. These factions focused on the socio-political status quo, keeping within their localities and working to challenge existing distributions of power and privilege. Those from the countryside and without ties to the Chinese Communist Party often joined radical groups who sought to change and uproot local government leadership. The primary goal of the radicals was to restructure existing systems to benefit those of poorer backgrounds, as supposed Capitalist Roaders were corrupting the Socialist agenda. Primarily influenced by travel and a freer exchange of ideas from different regions of China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, more joined the radical, rebel factions of the Red Guards by the second half of the Cultural Revolution.

Some historians, one being Andrew Walder, argue that individuals and their political choices also influenced the development of Red Guard factions all across China. Interests of individuals, interactions with authority figures, and social interactions all altered identities to forge factions that would fight for new grievances against "the system".
Following Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

's idea of permanent revolution
Permanent Revolution
Permanent revolution is a term within Marxist theory, established in usage by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels by at least 1850 but which has since become most closely associated with Leon Trotsky. The use of the term by different theorists is not identical...

, the factions and their identities continually evolved as new ideas and people were brought in. Ultimately, the struggle between factions led to the chaotic civil-war-like atmosphere which foiled Mao's original intent to have the people carry out an orderly permanent revolution against the existing regime.

End of the movement


By February 1967 political opinion at the center had decided on the removal of the Red Guards from the Cultural Revolution scene in the interest of stability.
The People's Liberation Army
People's Liberation Army
The People's Liberation Army is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China...

 (PLA) forcibly suppressed the more radical Red Guard groups in Sichuan
Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

, Anhui
Anhui
Anhui is a province in the People's Republic of China. Located in eastern China across the basins of the Yangtze River and the Huai River, it borders Jiangsu to the east, Zhejiang to the southeast, Jiangxi to the south, Hubei to the southwest, Henan to the northwest, and Shandong for a tiny...

, Hunan
Hunan
' is a province of South-Central China, located to the south of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and south of Lake Dongting...

, Fujian
Fujian
' , formerly romanised as Fukien or Huguing or Foukien, is a province on the southeast coast of mainland China. Fujian is bordered by Zhejiang to the north, Jiangxi to the west, and Guangdong to the south. Taiwan lies to the east, across the Taiwan Strait...

, and Hubei
Hubei
' Hupeh) is a province in Central China. The name of the province means "north of the lake", referring to its position north of Lake Dongting...

 provinces in February and March. Students were ordered to return to schools; student radicalism was branded 'counterrevolutionary' and banned. There was a wide backlash in the spring against the suppression, with student attacks on any symbol of authority and PLA units. An order from Mao, the Cultural Revolution Group, the State Council, and the Central Military Affairs Committee of the PLA on September 5, 1967 instructed the PLA to restore order to China.

The PLA violently put down the national Red Guard movement in the year that followed, with the suppression often brutal. A radical alliance of Red Guard groups in Hunan province called the Sheng Wu Lien was involved in clashes with local PLA units, for example, and in the first half of 1968 was forcibly suppressed. At the same time the PLA carried out mass executions of Red Guards in Guangxi
Guangxi
Guangxi, formerly romanized Kwangsi, is a province of southern China along its border with Vietnam. In 1958, it became the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China, a region with special privileges created specifically for the Zhuang people.Guangxi's location, in...

 province that were unprecedented in the Cultural Revolution.

The final remnants of the movement were defeated in Peking in the summer of 1968. Reportedly, in an audience of the Red Guard leaders with Mao, the Chairman informed them gently of the end of the movement with a tear in his eye. The repression of the students by the PLA was not as gentle. After the summer of 1968 some more-radical students continued to travel across China and play an unofficial part in the Cultural Revolution, but by then the movement's official and substantial role was over.

In popular culture

  • Allen Ginsberg
    Allen Ginsberg
    Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

     refers to "Red Guards battling country workers in Nanking" in the first line of his poem "Returning North of Vortex," included in the collection The Fall of America: Poems of These States
    The Fall of America: Poems of These States
    The Fall of America: Poems of These States is a book of poetry by Allen Ginsberg, published by City Lights in 1973 for which Ginsberg won the National Book Award. It's characterized by a prophetic tone inspired by William Blake and Walt Whitman, as well as an objective view characterized by William...

    .
  • In The Last Emperor
    The Last Emperor
    The Last Emperor is a 1987 biopic about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, whose autobiography was the basis for the screenplay written by Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci. Independently produced by Jeremy Thomas, it was directed by Bertolucci and released in 1987 by Columbia Pictures...

    , the Red Guard appeared near the end of the film humiliating the prison warden who treated the Emperor of China
    Emperor of China
    The Emperor of China refers to any sovereign of Imperial China reigning between the founding of Qin Dynasty of China, united by the King of Qin in 221 BCE, and the fall of Yuan Shikai's Empire of China in 1916. When referred to as the Son of Heaven , a title that predates the Qin unification, the...

     Puyi
    Puyi
    Puyi , of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan, was the last Emperor of China, and the twelfth and final ruler of the Qing Dynasty. He ruled as the Xuantong Emperor from 1908 until his abdication on 12 February 1912. From 1 to 12 July 1917 he was briefly restored to the throne as a nominal emperor by the...

     kindly.
  • The film To Live has the Red Guards appearing in a few scenes, showing their various types of activity.
  • Farewell My Concubine, the Red Guards humiliate Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou as they try to overthrow the old society.
  • In the film The Blue Kite
    The Blue Kite
    The Blue Kite is a film directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang in 1993. Though banned by the Chinese government upon its completion , the film soon found a receptive international audience...

    , Tei Tou's classmates are shown wearing the red scarves of the red guards, and the film ends with the red guards denouncing his stepfather.
  • Jung Chang
    Jung Chang
    Jung Chang is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in the People's Republic of China....

    's autobiography Wild Swans
    Wild Swans
    Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a family history that spans a century, recounting the lives of three female generations in China, by Chinese writer Jung Chang. First published in 1991, Wild Swans contains the biographies of her grandmother and her mother, then finally her own autobiography...

    describes the atrocities committed by the Red Guards.
  • In Hong Kong
    Hong Kong
    Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

    , TVB and ATV
    Asia Television Limited
    Asia Television Limited is one of the two free-to-air television broadcasters in Hong Kong, the other being rival Television Broadcasts Limited . It launched in 1957 under the name Rediffusion Television as the first television station in Hong Kong...

     often depicted the brutality of the Red Guards in films and television dramas. They are rarely portrayed in film and television programs produced in mainland China
    Mainland China
    Mainland China, the Chinese mainland or simply the mainland, is a geopolitical term that refers to the area under the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China . According to the Taipei-based Mainland Affairs Council, the term excludes the PRC Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and...

    .
  • The video game Command & Conquer: Generals
    Command & Conquer: Generals
    Command & Conquer: Generals is a real-time strategy game in the Command & Conquer series. Generals utilizes SAGE...

    misleadingly named the Chinese standard infantry unit the "Red Guard", that ensured the game's ban in China.
  • The novel about the Cultural Revolution, Red Scarf Girl
    Red Scarf Girl
    Red Scarf Girl is a memoir written by Ji-li Jiang about her experiences during the Cultural Revolution of China. The book's foreword is written by David Henry Hwang....

    by Ji-Li Jiang, prominently features the Red Guards. The main character often wishes she could become one.
  • In the book Son of the Revolution, the main character, Liang Heng, becomes a red guard at age 12, despite the years of persecution
    Persecution
    Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation,...

     he and his family received from them.
  • In the autobiography Gang of One, Fan Shen provides first hand accounts of his youth as a Red Guard.
  • Li Cunxin
    Li Cunxin
    Li Cunxin is a Chinese-Australian former ballet dancer and current stockbroker.-Early life:Li was born into poverty in the Li Commune near the city of Qingdao in the Shandong province of People's Republic of China...

     makes repeated reference to the Red Guards in his autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer.
  • In the book Red Flower of China, Zhai Zhenhua recounts her time as a Red Guard.
  • Yang Rae recounts her time in the Red Guards and in the countryside in Spider Eaters.

See also

  • Gang of Four
    Gang of Four
    The Gang of Four was the name given to a political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials. They came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution and were subsequently charged with a series of treasonous crimes...

  • Mao Zedong
    Mao Zedong
    Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

  • Morning Sun (documentary)