The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was Mao’s last and arguably greatest attempt to bring a spirit of destructiveness and permanent revolution to the party. Beginning as a mass movement among students inspired by Mao’s rhetoric and Lin Biao’s “Little Red Book” of quotations, the Cultural Revolution spread quickly through Chinese society, leading to the persecution and death of millions of so-called rightists. The young “Red Guards” turned on their parents, their teachers and their leaders. President Liu Shaoqi was ousted from power and Deng Xiaoping soon followed, accused of “following the capitalist road.”
When the initial fervor of the Red Guards faded, the party was left in disarray, with many of its top leaders ousted or disgraced. Filling the power vacuum were new faces, like Lin Biao and the notorious Gang of Four. An aging Mao remained in charge as rival factions vied to be anointed his successor.
Roderick MacFarquhar, a leading expert on the Cultural Revolution, prepared a brief essay for this project on the turmoil of this period and its aftermath.