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1.15  Mao's Cultural Revolution Phase III (1971 - 76) - The Consolidation of Civilian Party Rule

1 July 2018

Restoration of a Unified and Collective Leadership


In the run-up to the 10th National Party Congress in August 1973, the central leadership acted to restore "unified and coIIective leadership" using the anti-Lin campaign as a means of building a new coalition of leaders.


Of some ten Politburo members who survived the purge, three distinctive groups have appeared: Jiang Qing group (Kang Sheng, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan), Zhou's associates (Ye Jianying叶剑英, Li Xiannian李先念 and Ji Dengkui纪登奎), and other military leaders (Li Tiesheng李铁生, Wang Dongxing汪东兴, Xu Shiyou许世友, and Chen Xilian陈锡联).


At the same time, on the instructions of Mao, a number of the purged old power-holders were also rehabilitated in 1971-73.[1] Among the most prominent of those rehabilitated was Deng Xiaoping, who was reinstated as a vice premier in April 1973. Together, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping came to exert strong influence. Their moderate line favouring modernization of all sectors of the economy was formally confirmed at the Tenth National Party Congress, at which time Deng Xiaoping was made a member of the party's Central Committee (but not yet of the Political Bureau).


Meanwhile, the hierarchy of the Party-State organizations reappeared after the Party resumed its central departments and the State Council reactivated its ministries and commissions. A line of specialization was discernible at the top: Zhou in charge of overaII Party and foreign affairs, Ye Jianying military affairs, Li Xiannian economic affairs, and Jian Qing cultural-educational affairs. Once again the policy process became institutionalized since the formal channels of communication such as the work conference and internal documents including Reference Materials and Reference News had been resumed. To instill discipline, all cadres were urged to adhere to this concept: everyone must be subordinate to the Party Committees; the minority to the majority, the lower level to the higher, and the entire populace to the Central Committee. The direct involvement of societal forces in politics is no longer allowed; hence political conflicts have to be fought within the formal organizations. In checking deviant cadres, too, the Centre has shifted its emphasis to organizational control.


With the Party control restored, Mao's cult was de-emphasized. Instead, the Party sought to enhance its legitimacy and revitalize its institutional authority by publicizing its capabilities in development at home and China's national prestige abroad.


The 10th Party Congress in August 1973 formally ratified these trends. The new Party Constitution adopted at the Congress emphasized that all other organizations including the Army "must all accept the centralized leadership of the Party". It also made mass criticism one of the Party's on-going institutions while asserting Mao's dictum: "Revolution like this [the Cultural Revolution] will have to be carried out many times in the future". To make a clean break from Lin Biao, the Congress also deleted all of Lin's slogans written into the 1969 Constitution, including the old provision: "Comrade Lin Piao is Comrade Mao Tse-tung's close comrade-in-arms and successor".


As for foreign policy, the Party Constitution stated that the CCP opposes "great-power chauvinism". The Chinese were alarmed in 1966-68 by steady Soviet military buildups along their common border. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 heightened Chinese apprehensions. In March 1969 Chinese and Soviet troops clashed on Zhenbao Island (珍宝岛known to the Soviets as Damanskiy Island) in the disputed Wusuli Jiang (乌苏里江Ussuri River) border area. The tension on the border had a sobering effect on the fractious Chinese political scene and provided the regime with a new and unifying rallying call.  


The threat from the Soviet prompted China to seek rapprochement with the United States, culminating in the dramatic visit by President Richard M. Nixon in February 1972. The rapprochement cleared the way for China to be accepted as a member of the United Nation in place of Republic of China (Taiwan). In September 1972 diplomatic relations were also established with Japan.


In January 1975, speaking before the 4th National People's Congress, Zhou Enlai outlined a program of what has come to be known as the Four Modernizations for the four sectors of agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology. In the same month, Deng Xiaoping's position was solidified by his election as a vice chairman of the CCP and as a member of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee. Deng also was installed as China's first civilian chief of PLA General Staff Department.


The Passing of Mao and Zhou and the End of the Cultural Revolution


In 1976, a series of dramatic events signalled the coming of a great change.


In January, China's much-loved prime minister, Zhou Enlai, finally succumbed to illness. On April 1, a large scale demonstration memorializing Zhou Enlai and protesting against the Gang of Four, Zhou’s opponents, took place in Tiananmen Square.


Deng Xiaoping’s political career once again saw a temporary setback when the Jiang Qing’s faction launched a major counterassault against him with the death of his patron, Premier Zhou. Despite Mao's alleged lack of mental acuity, his influence in the months before his death remained such that his orders to dismiss Deng and appoint Hua Guofeng were accepted immediately by the Political Bureau. In April 1976 Deng was once more removed from all his public posts, and a relative political unknown, Hua Guofeng (华国锋), a Political Bureau member, vice premier, and minister of public security, was named acting premier and party first vice chairman.


In July, Zhu De (then chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and de jure head of state) also died. In the same month, a major earthquake devastated the city of Tangshan (唐山大地震) in Hebei Province northeast of the capital, killing nearly 300,000 people. It was said that the earthquake omened the withdrawal of Mao’s "mandate of heaven" manifested as Mao’s demise on September 9 at the age of 82. His passing heralded the official end of the GPCR which historians believe took the lives of somewhere between 500,000 and two million people. With the deaths of the three most senior officials in the CCP and the state apparatus in quick succession within the same year, the nation plunged into a state of intense political uncertainty.

The radical clique most closely associated with Mao and the Cultural Revolution also became vulnerable after Mao died, just as Deng had been after Zhou Enlai's demise.


In October, less than a month after Mao's death, Jiang Qing and her three principal associates – denounced as the Gang of Four (四人帮) – were arrested with the assistance of two senior Political Bureau members, Minister of National Defense Ye Jianying and Wang Dongxing, commander of the CCP's elite bodyguard. They were publicly tried for masterminding the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang contested the charges claiming she had merely been “Chairman Mao’s dog” but was sentenced to death in 1981, later reduced to life in prison. In 1991, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, she hung herself.


Meanwhile, it was formally announced that Hua Guofeng had assumed the positions of party chairman, chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, and premier. The jubilation following the incarceration of the Gang of Four and the popularity of the new ruling triumvirate (Hua Guofeng , Ye Jianying , and Li Xiannian , a temporary alliance of necessity) were succeeded by calls for the restoration to power of Deng Xiaoping and the elimination of leftist influence throughout the political system. By July 1977, the Central Committee exonerated Deng Xiaoping and allowed him to resume all the posts from which he had been removed in 1976.


The post-Mao political order was given its first vote of confidence at the 11th National Party Congress, held August 12-18, 1977. Hua was confirmed as party chairman, and Ye Jianying, Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, and Wang Dongxing were elected vice chairmen. The congress proclaimed the formal end of the Cultural Revolution, blamed it entirely on the Gang of Four, and reiterated that "the fundamental task of the party in the new historical period is to build China into a modern, powerful socialist country by the end of the twentieth century".

PREVIOUS: 1.14  Mao's Cultural Revolution Phase II (1969 - 71) - The Reconstruction Phase & the Lin Biao Affair



[1] See Byung-joon Ahn. (1974). Pg. 278.

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