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Slogans, the pithy heart of the Cultural Revolution

Just work, consume, breed and smile.
by Staff Writers
Beijing, (AFP) May 14, 2006
"Revolution is not a crime! Rebellion is justified!". "Dare to think, dare to act".

Such were the slogans that stirred China's youth to rebellion during the Cultural Revolution -- the words repeatedly blared over loudspeakers across the country, on the radio and printed in Party newspapers.

Accompanied by the personality cult of Chairman Mao Zedong, the chief instigator of the movement, millions were inspired by the propaganda to turn on their fellow citizens -- even their own parents -- during the decade of collective madness that seized the country from May 1966.

"The Mao cult involved a lot of sloganeering that served to bolster the myth surrounding him and ascribed super-human qualities to him," said Stefan Landsberger, an expert on Chinese propaganda at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Most youths carried with them the "Little Red Book" of Mao sayings, treating it with the piety normally associated with sacred texts of the world's major religions.

By engendering a god-like image of Mao, Communist Party propagandists ensured for Mao a loyal following among ordinary people, Landsberger said.

For example, the slogan of the "Four Greats", termed Mao as "the greatest teacher, the greatest leader, the greatest commander, and the greatest helmsman".

This slogan was unveiled when a million thrilled Chinese youths known as Red Guards gathered in Tiananmen Square for the first time to be reviewed by Mao during the early months of the movement on August 18, 1966.

Likewise the slogan of the "Three Loyalties", called for "boundless loyalty to Chairman Mao, loyalty to Mao Zedong Thought and loyalty to Chairman Mao's revolutionary line".

Slogans have a long history in China going back to the famous proverbs of the philosopher Confucius, who many believe served as the model for Mao's propagandists as they transformed Mao into a philosopher leader.

The more the party propagandists established Mao as a great leader, the easier it was for Mao to use the Red Guards and the Chinese people to destroy his political enemies, including those who opposed his policies and those who refused to accept his revolution.

An example of this also came in August 1966 when Mao issued his first Cultural Revolution "big character poster", or a political tract written in big Chinese characters, urging the Red Guards to rebel and "bombard the headquarters".

"'Bombard the Headquarters' became the slogan that justified wrestling authority from government officials who were 'capitalist roaders'," Landsberger said.

The slogan led to countless officials and party cadres being persecuted for their "bad class background" as either land owners, bourgeois intellectuals or friends of Westerners.

Prominent "capitalist roaders" at the time included then president Liu Shaoqi, who died in prison in 1969 following severe persecution, and late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who survived the Cultural Revolution and lived to engineer China's opening and reform period.

Even during the waning period of the Cultural Revolution after Mao died in 1976, slogans were used to great effect to end the 10 years of chaos.

The slogan, "Smash the Gang of Four", became the nation's rallying cry as the four leaders of the revolution, including Mao's wife Jiang Qing, were arrested and jailed.

Even Deng, when he re-surfaced following Mao's death, used a slogan penned by Mao -- "Seek Truth From Facts" -- to bolster his economic reform agenda while insisting that facts rather than ideology should be the criteria for correct policy.

"But borrowing a phrase from Mao meant that Mao's influence was still there," Landsberger noted.

Related Links

From revolution to jail: A Chinese Red Guard tells his tale
Wuhan, China, (AFP) May 14, 2006
Former Red Guard Lu Li'an was serving his eighth year in prison when he swore to someday again take up the pen that led to his incarceration on "counter-revolutionary" charges during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

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