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Chronology of Mass Killings during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)

Last modified: 23 July 2012
Song Yongyi

August 2011

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Song Yongyi, Chronology of Mass Killings during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 25 August 2011, accessed 29 July 2014, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/Chronology-of-Mass-Killings-during-the-Chinese-Cultural, ISSN 1961-9898

The entire turbulent decade during which the waves of mass killings occurredis divided into four time periods:

I. “The Red Terror” (August — December 1966)

II. “All-round Civil War” in China (January – December 1967)

III. Killing for and by the New Organs of Power (1968-1971)

IV. Endless Killing (1972-1977)

 I. “The Red Terror” (August — December 1966)

The very beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China immediately led to violent mass chaos in June 1966. As indicated by a militant editorial on June 1 in the People’s Daily, an official guideline for the Cultural Revolution, the main purpose of this unprecedented political campaign was to “Sweep Away All Cow-Demons and Snake-Spirits,” which not only included traditional class enemies such as the “Five Black Categories” (landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, and rightists), but also “capitalist-roaders in the Party” (cadres) and “reactionary academics” (teachers and other intellectuals). Mao’s strategy for the Cultural Revolution included using forces both within and outside the Party to defeat his rivals in the Party and to bolster his own primacy, all in a manner inseparably linked to his political idealism. Mao and the Party Central stirred up the passions of thousands of rebellious youth in Beijing middle schools and colleges, where students began to establish Red Guards to challenge and attack school authority and teachers. During the short period of June- July 1966, mass violence spread over campuses, where teachers and other educators were abusively subjected to “struggle sessions,” humiliated, and beaten by fervent students. Despite the fact that the Chinese government had received urgent requests to curtail the wave of violence that was unfolding every day, Mao and the Party Central did not want to address the issue, as they “appeared to view it as a necessary feature of rebellion, and the suffering of victims as acceptable collateral damage” (Walder, 2009: 148).

On July 28, 1966, Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife and a key figure of the Central Cultural Revolution Group, conveyed Mao’s instruction regarding mass violence at a students’ rally: “If good people beat bad people, it serves them right; if bad people beat good people, the good people achieve glory; if good people beat good people, it is a misunderstanding; without beatings, you do not get acquainted and then no longer need to beat them.”. In other words, Mao thought the government “should turn a blind eye to violence as an inevitable by-product” of the Red Guard mobilization (Walder, 2009: 149). In August, the main target of the Red Guards’ agitation shifted from campuses to the society at large. Xie Fuzhi, the Minister of Public Security, mirrored Mao’s attitude. In an important internal meeting, he directed all police stations and other security forces to assist Red Guards in identifying “reactionary” households for searching, beating and deportations. On August 22, at the climax of the mass terror in Beijing and other major cities, the CCP CC issued a directive entitled “Stipulations of the Ministry of Public Security forbidding the use of police force to suppress the revolutionary student movements,” which fueled the violence and put the targets of the Red Guards, several thousand people, in a virtually defenseless position. As a result, a significantly increased mass violence was perpetrated against those residents with “bad” family backgrounds: their houses were searched, their personal properties confiscated and then the entire households were expelled from the city to the countryside. A mob of thousands of Red Guards also roamed the cities’ streets and attacked any person whom they believed to have hobbies and consumer habits associated with the bourgeois class; the targeted individuals were then subjected to violent “struggle sessions.” When the waves of unrestricted violence swept over major cities all over China, ruthless mass killings ensued.

Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence® - ISSN 1961-9898