Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Sam Corbin

China’s Cultural Revolution


First Published: Challenge, Vol. III, No. 6, September 13, 1966
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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At a moment when the western, especially the American, press is so full of lies and distortion about the so-called “purges” in China, the vivid testimony of an eye-witness who has been living and working in China, and has observed there the process of transformation in the interest of the people, is doubly precious to those who are striving to pierce the curtain of official capitalist demonology.

Monique van der Ploeg–a slight intense black-haired young French woman who has just returned from China after two years teaching French in Nanking University–described the present Cultural Revolution now under way there as a powerful grassroots movement aimed at eliminating the habits and prejudices inherited from the old master-and-slave society. Obviously, the need for thus psychologically arming the masses and eliminating the vestiges of bourgeois thinking was made all the more imperative by the imminent danger that American imperialism’s aggressive war in Vietnam will expand until it forces the Chinese people also to take up arms in defense of the Revolution.

As Monique put it: “In the University of Nanking where I was teaching, 80% of the students are now of worker and peasant origin–a percentage 20% higher than it was two years ago when I started working there. The big drive is to adapt the educational system to the needs and interests of the sons and daughters of the common people who now–for the first time in China’s long history–have the opportunity to get an education.

“This means modernizing the texts and teaching methods, giving the curriculum a thoroughly socialist content and spirit, and replacing the teaching and administrative personnel. Until now, they have been tolerated despite the fact that they were not completely devoted to the ideals of a class-less society, owing to their own upper-class origins.”

Monique explained that, not only in the Universities, but also in other cultural fields such as the press and films, many secret enemies of the new society had worked their way into positions of influence, and that the time had come to weed them out.

In Peking University–where the cultural revolution started– and in Nanking, where Monique was teaching, the process was the same: “The students took matters into their own hands,” said Monique, “exposing and isolating the reactionaries who had been paying lip-service to the goals of socialism while working deviously to hold back progress. Now the universities have temporarily suspended their courses so as to concentrate on the task of re-thinking and re-organizing the curriculum, as well as engaging in a thorough process of mutual self-criticism.”

Monique reported that the cultural revolution now under way in China is the affair not only of the teachers and students in the Universities and of the cultural workers generally, but of the entire population of workers and peasants.

“Everywhere I went in the city of Nanking,” explained Monique, “there was evidence of popular enthusiasm for the cultural revolution. The newspapers –which nearly everyone reads avidly–spoke in banner headlines of the changes taking place. The extent of widespread interest and participation was amazing. Workers paraded through the streets in honor of the cultural revolution, huge placards and posters decorated the factories and shops.”

A particularly interesting aspect of the cultural revolution is the fact–surprising even to many progressives in the West– that the books and films which have recently been publicly stigmatized in the press as bearers of reactionary disorienting viewpoints are still available to the public. Monique explained, for example, that a film which has been sharply criticized by Party leaders because it attempted subtly to arouse sympathy for the dispossessed landlord class is still being shown.

Said Monique: “Such films are regarded generally as being negative examples on which the people can practice their critical sense and learn to distinguish the true from the false.”

Despite the substantial progress that has been made in People’s China–living conditions have been improving continuously –the partisans of a capitalist restoration and of appeasement toward imperialism have not yet given up the struggle for power. It became clear from Monique’s account that the economic revolution–abolition of private ownership of the means of production–must be and is being complemented by long and complicated cultural and ideological revolution to prevent the danger of a return to the past.