Mao Zedong and the Education(TM)s changes in the People’s Republic of China

Table of Content

Evaluating the level of success in achieving Mao’s specific educational goals during the Cultural Revolution is necessary.

The investigation’s plan is as follows:

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China was under the control of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, which emphasized nationalism, economic prosperity, and a unified government. Achieving these goals necessitated significant changes in Chinese life and education. This study aims to examine Mao’s educational goals during the Cultural Revolution and assess their effectiveness. A key focus of this revolution was reducing inequalities among workers and peasants, urban and rural regions, as well as manual and intellectual labor.

The investigation will examine Mao’s objectives at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the initial actions taken by students through the Red Guards, the reconstruction and reformation of Chinese culture, and Mao’s lasting impact. The analysis will assess the transformation and improvement in the realm of education. The sources utilized comprise textbooks, primary documents, Mao’s speeches, and eyewitness testimonies, two of which will be extensively scrutinized.

B. Overview of the evidence

The Cultural Revolution began.

The Cultural Revolution began as a fierce struggle between the proletariat and working people, confronting the bourgeoisie and their allies within the Party. It started in Shanghai, hailed by local revolutionary masses as the significant “January Revolution.” Initially, there was an art and literature campaign aimed at eliminating bourgeois influences. However, in May 1966, this campaign expanded when a student at Beijing University questioned the conservative administration’s limitations on freedom of movement. Mao Zedong supported her allegations and believed that mobilizing young people would be crucial in achieving his objectives – particularly by eradicating traditional Four Olds and transforming China.

2. The Red Guard Terror

The Red Guard consisted primarily of young individuals, many of whom were students or pupils, and they held Mao Zedong in high regard. Their main objective was to transform China by replacing its traditional values with a modern society that aligned with Mao’s vision. Mao Zedong outlined his opposition in the revolution as “class enemies” and identified the “Four Olds,” including old culture, old thoughts, old customs, and old habits, in his Sixteen Articles (August 1966).

The initial formation of the Red Guard occurred in Beijing on May 29, 1966. In less than a year, numerous high school and college students as well as younger workers joined the Red Guard or similar rebellious groups. Supplied with red arm bands by Maoist authorities, these individuals, known as ‘Red Guards’, initiated a period of terror wherein violence was the primary means of effecting change. There was a complete disregard for authority figures, as teachers and parents were replaced by Mao Zedong who became their new leader. Loyalty and obedience were directed solely towards Mao.

The young people were backed by Mao to carry out actions aimed at demolishing the Four Olds. Targets included temples, shrines, artworks, and gardens, resulting in the destruction of valuable and irreplaceable treasures of Chinese culture. A Western correspondent noted that Mao encouraged the Red Guards by stating that rebelling was justified.

3. Reshaping the Chinese Culture & Education

China’s transformation involved the goal of eliminating inequalities through the promotion of equality and the provision of education to previously marginalized individuals. During the years spanning from 1969 to 1974, approximately ten million urban students who had completed secondary school relocated to rural areas, where they engaged in farm work or other occupations. These reforms had a simultaneous impact on the educational system, bringing about three interconnected changes. Firstly, there was a shift towards decentralization within the education bureaucracy. Additionally, the authority of intellectuals was diminished, leading to a process of deprofessionalization. Lastly, local communities, particularly the local Communist Party, gained greater control over education.

After the Cultural Revolution, the legacy remains significant.

During the years 1949 to 1978, the People’s Republic of China underwent substantial transformations in its political, social, and economic spheres. Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize that the Cultural Revolution had extensive impacts on all aspects of life in China.

The ideological legacy of Mao

The Maoists hailed the Cultural Revolution as a major triumph as it reinstated Mao’s authority and his ideology, which were deemed crucial for China’s advancement12. However, not all Chinese citizens embraced Mao’s ideology and reforms. They believed that his legacy was unsuitable for the new goal of modernization and pointed to his failure in lifting China out of poverty as evidence of the inadequacy of his approach. This created conflicting perspectives and reaching a consensus was challenging. To prevent these conflicts, it was necessary to separate Mao’s leadership from his ideology. Mao’s ideology embodies the Chinese Revolution and the struggles and endeavors of the Chinese people; thus, it is also their heritage.

Following a period of chaos

The Cultural Revolution had devastating consequences not only for the Party and the country but also for the entire population13. In addition to the fatalities, millions of Chinese individuals were left physically and psychologically scarred from the battles and repression during the Cultural Revolution. Countless people were arbitrarily arrested and sent to prisons or labor camps, while millions more were relocated to remote areas such as Manchuria and Xinjiang14. Among the most vulnerable were the intellectuals, a broad term encompassing anyone whose lifestyle or profession was considered disconnected from the general population. Teachers, university staff, writers, and even doctors fell victim to Red Guard squads who labeled them as “bad elements” and forced them to publicly confess their alleged class crimes15. The Maoists were willing to let things escalate to extremes16.

C. Assessment of Sources

David Milton, Nancy Milton, and Franz Schurmann (1974) authored People’s China, which is Volume 4 of the China Reader series.

The Milton’s, who are Sociology professors at Berkeley, and Schurmann, a well-known China scholar in the United States, want to emphasize the progress made both externally and internally in the early years of the Cultural Revolution.

This source is significant as it gives us an understanding of the beginning and advancement of the revolution. It is especially important because it provides firsthand information from 1974, such as speeches, recorded conversations, letters, and quotes, which give a complete picture of Mao’s environment and the people involved. Additionally, the book focuses on China’s viewpoint of the events, highlighting its substantial global impact. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that this publication dates back to 1974 and does not include more recent interpretations of the Cultural Revolution.

Alan Lawrance (2004) China since 1919 Revolution and Reform-A sourcebook

Alan Lawrance, a History professor, visited China on official delegations in 1972 and 1981 and witnessed the difference between the policies of the Cultural Revolution and their effect on education18. During his trips, he established various connections and had the opportunity to get a closer look at ‘the real China’19. The objective of this book is to provide a compilation of documents and excerpts that are often difficult to access.

When it comes to serving as a sourcebook, it proves its worth by offering a wide range of primary materials. Lawrance adopts a consistent structure for each chapter, starting with an introductory summary of the overall topic followed by presenting statements in chronological order. However, a potential drawback is the inclusion of Lawrance’s own ideas in the introduction to the sources, which may sway the reader’s interpretation.

D. Analysis

To evaluate Mao’s educational objectives and his success in achieving them, it is important to understand his goals during the Cultural Revolution and his motivations for revolutionizing the Chinese Education System. Mao, referred to as Chairman Mao by the Red Guards, introduced the concept of the “Four Olds,” which encompassed old culture, old thoughts, old customs, and old habits. He also identified the opponents of the Cultural Revolution as “class enemies,” primarily intellectuals and traditional teachers who advocated for preserving the Four Olds. Mao believed that education was heavily influenced by Confucian ideas, which conflicted with the goal of establishing a socialist country where equality between intellectuals, the working class, and peasants was an unattainable objective.

Mao had the ambition for education to be connected to reality and everyday life. He believed that students could gain more knowledge by not only reading and attending lectures, but also by actively working. Consequently, the Cultural Revolution brought significant changes primarily in the Admission Policy, the Length and substance of Education, and the Governance of Schools. Nevertheless, while the peasant population supported these reforms, not all Chinese citizens endorsed the use of abuse and violence as means for change.

The Admission Policy has experienced significant changes by removing the conventional entrance examination across all schooling levels because of its connection with bourgeois intellectuals and its effect on the worker and peasant class24. Additionally, there have been notable alterations in the duration and curriculum of education. Primary and secondary schools now operate for five years instead of six, while colleges have been shortened to four or five years.

Mao’s preference was for young individuals to complete their education early and then be motivated to explore different parts of China while actively participating in the Cultural Revolution through the Red Guard. Mao held this preference partly because he wanted students to contribute to the development of agriculture or industry instead of solely concentrating on academic research or studying. In fact, Mao believed that classroom learning should align with societal, political, and production requirements, emphasizing practical skills for practical use.

Furthermore, the transfer of school administration from bourgeois intellectuals to committees composed of local workers, soldiers, peasants, and CCP27-affiliated students and teachers made the governance of schools a highly contentious issue.

Additionally, individuals with political power could use their influence to guarantee admission for their children, or anyone who had given them a bribe.

During that decade, corruption and injustice were prevalent in China. People who did not have any advantage, influence, or participation in politics experienced limited opportunities to receive education. The education system became a means for political gain for supporters of the CCP, while intellectuals and bourgeoisie faced unfair treatment.

E. Conclusion

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution had a substantial effect on different areas of China, such as the economy, political system, foreign relations, and education. From 1966 to 1976, it brought about reforms that completely altered the traditional education system. Nevertheless, despite Mao’s goals, the Cultural Revolution ultimately had negative repercussions. It left behind a devastating legacy – an entire generation of youth who lost their belief in principles and missed out on a meaningful education. Consequently, China experienced a significant shortage of professionals and specialists during this time. 28

Contrasting with a typical democratic regime, the new reforms were controlled by Mao Zedong, who strived to establish a new republic. Mao Zedong embodied the true spirit and direction of the Revolution. It is acknowledged that education was considered a right for peasants but an abuse for intellectuals. Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that China made progress towards equality and bridged the social gaps.

F. List of Sources

Chesneaux, Jean (1979) China: The People’s Republic 1949-1976.

Crispin, Denis Twitchett, John King Fairbank, and Albert Feuerwerker (1978)

The Cambridge History of China, published by Cambridge University Press, is available in Volume 15.

Gregor, Anthony James (1986) The China Connection: U.S. Policy and the People’s Republic of China. Ed. Hoover Press

Haoran, (1976) Ma plume au service du prolétariat [My pen in the Service of the Proletariat] Lausanne, Alfred Eibel Editions.

The book titled “Law in the People’s Republic of China” was authored by Haughwout, Ralph Folsom, and John H. Minan in 1989. It was published by Brill.

Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. (2000) The Rise of Modern China. 6th edition. Oxford University Press.

Jiang, Yarong & David Ashley (2000) wrote the book “Mao’s Children in the New China: Voices from the Red Guard Generation,” which is part of the Ed Asia’s Transformations series.

Lawrance, Alan. (2004) China since 1919- Revolution and Reform. Routledge

Lynch, Michael (1998). The People’s Republic of China since 1949. London: Hodder and Stoughton

Meisner, Maurice. (1998) Mao’s China and after. The Free Press. 3rd Edition.

Milton, David and Nancy, as well as Franz Schurmann, authored a book titled “People’s China” which was published by Penguin Books in 1974.The book “The Present and the Past: Modern China” by Moise, Edwin E. was published in 1986 and is the second edition, released by Longman Group in London and New York.

Daniel Schugurensky from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT) stated that education was greatly affected by the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In 1966, a report titled “Chinese Cultural Revolution brings about massive educational change” was published and can be found at this link. The report was last accessed on August 13th.

To learn more, visit the University of California, Berkley website on September 25th at

The ongoing passage of time justifies revisiting the cataclysmic events that occurred in China from 1966 to 1976, which still had lasting effects in China during the 1990s. Similar to other significant moments in human history, the Cultural Revolution requires constant examination, reinterpretation, and contemplation.

William A. Joseph, Christine P. W. Wong, and David Zweig.

2 Haoran, Ma plume au service du proletariat [My pen in the Service of the Proletariat], Lausanne, Alfred Eibel Editions 1976, pages 48-52.

The information is from a book called “People’s China” by David and Nancy Milton, and Franz Schurmann. It is the 4th volume published by Penguin Books in 1974. The specific page mentioned is 304.

4 David and Nancy Milton, and Franz Schurmann, 304.

5 Ibid, Pages 304-305

6 Yarong Jiang & David Ashley, Mao’s Children in the New China

Voices from the Red Guard Generation are featured on page 4 of Ed Asia’s Transformations.

7 Michael Lynch,. (1998). The People’s Republic of China since 1949, p. 41.

8 Lynch, Page 45

9 Jean Chesneaux, Ed. 1979 China: The People’s Republic 1949-1976, Pages 189-190.

Originally released under the title La Chine: Un Nouveau Communisme 1949-1976 by Hatier University (1977)

10 Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank & Albert Feuerwerker, The Cambridge History of China. Ed. 1978 Cambridge University Press. Volume 15 Page 567

11 Anthony James Gregor. The China Connection: U.S. Policy and the People’s Republic of China. Ed. Hoover Press 1986.Page 43

According to Immanuel C. Y. Hsu’s book The Rise of Modern China, published by Oxford University Press in 2000, the information can be found on page 702.

13 Michael Lynch. Pufang Xiaoping (Deng Xiaoping’ son) Reflections twenty years after the events. The People’s Republic of China since 1949.

14 Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China and after, The Free Press, Third Edition 1998, Page 354.

15 Michael Lynch, Page 46.

16 Ibid, Page 49.

The website for the University of California, Berkeley’s sociology department provides a list of alumni biographies. The webpage can be found at

In the second preface of “China since 1919- Revolution and Reform” by Alan Lawrance, published in 2004 by Routledge, the author discusses the developments in China since 1919.

19 Lawrance. Second preface.

20 Yarong Jiang & David Ashley, Mao’s Children in the New China Voices from the Red Guard Generation. Ed Asia’s Transformations. Page 5

21 Daniel Schugurensky. Chinese Cultural Revolution brings about a significant transformation in education. The research was conducted by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT) in 1966.

The birth year of Daniel Schugurensky was 1966.

23 Daniel Schugurensky, 1966

According to Edwin e Moise’s The Present and the Past: Modern China (Longman 1986), the importance of demonstrating academic competence through written exams was reduced during the Cultural Revolution, which started in 1966.

“25 Edwin e Moise. The Present and the Past: Modern China. Longman 1986. Page 194”

26 Daniel Schugurensky, 1966.

27 Ibid, 1966

28 Ralph Haughwout Folsom & John H. Minan published the book “Law in the People’s Republic of China” in 1989, which was edited by BRILL. This information can be found on page 12 of the book.

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