Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution

When we woke up this morning we thought our laptop had completely snuffed it as it wouldn’t even turn on. It has been playing up a bit recently and the dreaded blue screen of death has been appearing fairly regularly. Anyway Simon decided it might just be too cold and although I laughed at this idea after half an hour warming in the bed with the electric blanket and a few sweet nothings whispered in its ear it worked like a charm! Hurray!

We decided to get up and go and find a hearty breakfast to warm us up and like a miracle just as we finished eating the relentless rain of the past two days stopped. We take advantage and head off for Black Dragon Lake Pool. It is a lovely park and has some really gorgeous walks through it. We are most interested in trying to see the snow capped mountains and march enthusiastically to the key photography point. Anyway when we get there they are completely hidden from sight by clouds and the fantastic image we have seen of the lake, with a bridge across it and the Snow Mountains in the background is completely out of the question.

Still it’s a beautiful spot and we get some great shots anyway. The walk around the lake takes us past Taoist pagodas and there are some pretty trees and plants to look at. Despite the cold we all enjoyed the walk and the fresh air as we have been cooped up for a few days. We manage to spend a couple of hours wandering around before its starts to drizzle again and decide to head back to the old town for hot chocolates and homemade cakes. We want to buy a few souvenirs and settle for a wooden pig (It’s the year of the pig in China), a silk pashmina, some Yunnan coffee, green tea and a Tibetan cushion cover. We will add this small collection of stuff to the terracotta warrior we already have in our rucksack. I wanted to get a furry yak as well, but Simon said no.

We do some school work and it goes well, definitely an improvement on yesterday. We revise what we have already learnt about China’s ancient history and tackle the huge subject of Chairman Mao and The Cultural Revolution. I will try and explain what we learnt as best as I can. It is very complicated and I apologise to our new Chinese friends if I have made any mistakes.

Following the end of the last Imperial dynasty, by 1930 China was laden with social problems including child slave labour, domestic slavery, prostitution and starvation. The communist party led by Mao Zedong advocated rural based revolt against the government. Years of instability followed for China. They were invaded by the Japanese who carried out one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th century with a policy of “burn all, loot all, kill all”. But by the end of WWII the Japanese had been defeated and thrown out and the communists were in power.

Due to this, The Peoples Republic of China (1949) began its life as a bankrupt nation. Drastic measures were needed and Mao decided to “weed out” right wing intellectuals for a start. They were sent to labour camps for re education and thought reform. The road and rail networks were in a massive state of disrepair and every household was told to build blast furnaces in their backyards to increase steel production. This was called “The Great Leap Forward”. Farm tools, pots and pans and door knobs were all melted down. In Mao’s view, any obstacle could be overcome providing everyone worked together. The upshot of this actually being that with so many farmers involved in the steel production project an estimated 30-60 million Chinese people died from starvation through a lack of grain.

The enormous failure of The Great Leap Forward led to Mao resigning as head of state but he remained Chairman of the communist party. He was becoming increasingly isolated within the party and in order to regain some of his previous popularity many of his thoughts were compiled into what became known as the “little red book”. This was introduced into the general education system and was to become one of the symbols of the era.

In 1966 a play was released that criticised Mao. A huge purge of the arts followed. University students were issued with red arm bands and soon Mao was overseeing mass parades of students in Tiananmen Square, chanting and waving copies of the “little red book”. The Red Guards had been born. The Red Guards then went on a brutal rampage throughout the country. Schools were closed; academics, writers and artists were killed or sent to labour camps. Any cultural publications were destroyed and temples and monasteries were disbanded.

Physical reminders of China’s” feudal, exploitative and capitalist” past were destroyed and the four olds were banned. (Old customs, old thinking, old habits and old culture.) Family relationships were split up and sex and romance frowned upon. The people wore the blue Mao suit.

In September 1976 Mao died following a long illness and the communist grip on China has been slowly released over the past 3 decades. Mao remains at present pickled and on display in Tiananmen Square. Whether he will remain there as China heads towards 2008 and the Olympics remains to be seen. In China he is remembered as 70% right and 30% wrong in his leadership of the country. Having learnt about the history of places like Cambodia, for us it is obvious there are comparisons to be drawn but I think some of the Chinese people would probably disagree with that and the feeling we have got is that Mao is fondly remembered here.

A massive topic and full marks to the kids for sitting and taking it all in. They have learnt stuff on our trip that I never even dreamed existed when I was younger.

Its 6pm now and we are off out for some food. We are leaving Lijiang at 8pm on the sleeper bus (8 hours) and then hope to get straight on a train for the 22 hour journey to Guilin. Certainly need to be tough for travel in China.