The 1967 mass killing in Dao County, known as the Dao County Massacre, was 66 days of mass destruction in Hunan Province, China, lasting from August 13 to October 17, 1967. It resulted in 4,519 dead, of whom 4,193 were killed outright and 326 were forced to commit suicide. In Dao County, 38 communes and townships, 485 production brigades, 1,529 production teams, and 2,681 households (with family members killed) were involved; 117 households were entirely wiped out. The brutality of the massacre also spread to 10 neighboring cities and counties, and led to a further 4,000 deaths. Statistics shows that the death toll reached 1.2 percent of the population of Dao County (Zhang, 2002). This massacre was one of the worst mass killings that occurred during the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in China. Since the county is located in the southern border of Hunan Province neighboring on Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, the massacre afterwards provoked similar slaughters in those two provinces. Since most studies of the Cultural Revolution until now have focused on China’s main cities (Su, 2006), the Dao County massacre demonstrates that events at provincial grassroots level were sometimes far more complex and even worse than in the cities.
There are two principal features of this massacre. The first one is that it took place during the Cultural Revolution. The other is that nearly 90 percent of the victims were labeled as “class enemies”, i.e., the so-called Black Five Categories (landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, “bad elements,” and rightists) and their family members. Therefore, it should fit the term of “classicide” coined by Michael Mann, representing a special analytical category of political mass violence targeting all “class enemies.” (Mann, 2005: 17) However, according to the standards of Western sociology, “counter-revolutionaries,” “bad elements” and “rightists” are generally considered to be political, not social enemies, so the massacre was a blend of “politicide” and “classicide”.
The turbulent era of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) is widely known as a pivotal historical event and the one of the most ruthless humanitarian calamities of the entire fifty years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Purportedly to prevent China from deviating from its socialist path, Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mobilized the masses in a battle against what he considered to be the bourgeoisie within the ruling party.
According to Mao, one of the main tasks of his revolution was to purge “those power holders in the party who take the capitalist road” (also known as “capitalist-roaders”). Some of the leaders so labeled took a less radical approach than Mao’s to China’s economic development — including Mao’s first chosen successor, President Liu Shaoqi, who Mao was beginning to view as his main political rival in the CCP leadership in the early 1960s. Nevertheless they were all committed communists and had never conceived a program, as charged, to “restore capitalism” in China.
In addition, the Cultural Revolution had a far greater impact on the lives of ordinary people and Chinese society in general than any other political movement in the history of the PRC. Citizens classified in the Black Five Categories were regarded as another group of class enemies. They were invariably persecuted and remained downtrodden throughout the entire decade. As the natural targets of the Cultural Revolution, a large percentage of school teachers and college professors were persecuted as “bourgeois intellectuals” in the early stages and subjected to the orders of factory workers and then the soldiers sent by Mao to take control of the country’s schools in the later years of the Cultural Revolution. Enthusiastic urban youths at middle schools and colleges formed Red Guard organizations and served as Mao’s crusading army against the traditional party and state establishment.
Mao officially launched his Revolution on May 16, 1966, when an enlarged CCP Politburo meeting was held in Beijing to purge the so-called Peng (Zhen)-Luo (Ruiqing)-Lu (Dingyi)-Yang (Shangkun) Anti-Party Clique. These four leading CCP Politburo members were viewed by Mao as being close associates of his political rival Liu Shaoqi. In early August, Mao convened the Eleventh Plenum of the CCP Eighth Central Committee in Beijing. At the Plenum, Mao wrote a big-character poster entitled “Bombard the Headquarters,” implying that Liu and his supporters were using a measure of “bourgeois dictatorship.” The Plenum adopted a radical guideline designating the purge of “capitalist-roaders” and all other class enemies as the focus of the Cultural Revolution.
In the meantime, Mao made a decisive move to mobilize thousands of student Red Guards in his effort to topple Liu and to shake up the entire party and society, which triggered the first nationwide wave of violence. During this period, millions of innocent people such as the so-called Black Five Categories and “bourgeois intellectuals” were persecuted, their households were ransacked, and they and their family members were expelled from the major cities and sent to poverty-stricken rural areas (Guo, 2006: 238-240 and Ding, 1999).
In January 1967, Mao further called on all of the Red Guards and other mass organizations to launch a nationwide power-seizure campaign, in which the mass organizations assumed authority in local and provincial government. The power-seizure operation, however, became a violent competition amongst the mass organizations, and the army’s involvement following Mao’s late-January order to support the left failed to ease the tension and conflicts. Although the new power organs, the “revolutionary committees”, were beginning to be established at various levels in early 1967, factional violence nevertheless escalated to armed conflict in many parts of China. By late 1967 and early 1968, an estimated one million guns were in the hands of civilians. China, in Mao’s own words, was in a state of “all-round civil war,” resulting in heavy casualties.
While the power-seizure campaign and the subsequent factional violence took place at local and provincial levels in 1967 and 1968, a chaotic and lawless mass dictatorship was being established. Once again, weak social groups such as the Black Five Categories and their family members soon became tragic prey. Any local governments or revolutionary factional groups could discriminate against them, persecute them, and sometimes kill them lawlessly to enhance their authority.
In the summer of 1967, the mass organizations in Dao County were divided into two factional groups: the “Revolutionary Alliance” and the “Red Alliance.” The former consisted mainly of rebellious students while the latter was made up of mostly poor and lower-middle peasants led by local CCP officials and militia personnel. On August 8, the Revolutionary Alliance, the rebel organization that dominated the downtown area, stormed the county militia headquarters, confiscated all the weapons, and forced its rival Red Alliance to retreat its base to the countryside. On August 13, a bloody armed struggle occurred in the downtown area, which ended with the defeat of the Red Alliance (Zhang, 2002).
The leaders of the Red Alliance tried to find indirect ways of attacking the Revolutionary Alliance. Because they believed that some members of the Revolutionary Alliance were from “bad” family backgrounds such as the Black Five Categories, the members of the Red Alliance (many of them local officials) and their followers in the local militia (most of them demobilized soldiers) planned to slaughter all those from the Black Five Categories in the countryside, along with their family members, including children, to demonstrate that their “class consciousness” was greater than that of their rival faction.
However, China’s theory of class struggle was not new, nor was its effects unprecedented in dehumanizing certain groups of the population. For violence as extreme as this mass killing to take place, an additional process needed to be prearranged. In other words, the perpetrators needed to find a good excuse to trigger the massacre. Since there was no way of proving any inappropriate behavior by the Black Five class enemies, the perpetrators had to manufacture a pending danger of inaction and a tangible threat to justify the planned terror.