Thoughts on the Cultural Revolution

After two weeks of talking about the family history of those who lived during World War II, I thought I’d share a couple of stories told to me by the children of those who lived through the Cultural Revolution in China. Starting in 1966, the communist government tried to restructure the socioeconomic structure of China using force, humiliation, and purging. As a brief history reminder, communism is a philosophy the promotes common ownership (aka government control) of the means of production, including lands and factories. In overstated simplicity, the philosophy is that no one works for anyone else. Everyone is on the same level. The drive behind the Cultural Revolution was to restore the ideal communist society. The factory owners, land owners, scholars, or anyone employed others were declared enemies of the state and removed from power. Their possessions were taken away and given to others. They would be publicly scorned and ridiculed, often paraded through the streets so everyone could shame them.
I had a Chinese coworker years ago who told me about her parents who were college professors who lived comfortably as middle-class citizens. During the Cultural Revolution, their house was raided and their personal library was carted away. They were fired from their jobs and forced out to the countryside to work as farmers. Being city-dwelling scholars, farming was a way of life completely foreign to them. They didn’t know how to farm so the program was basically forced hard labor, with starvation being common. When the revolution ended, they were allow to return to their old home and start over. They found many of their books were in the local library, and they had to ask permission to use them. They sent their children to America so they could live in a place of freedom. My coworker still spoke with barely controlled anger against her birth country.
I recently spoke with another lady who told me about her Chinese family during the Cultural Revolution. Her mother’s family owned land and had employees that worked for them. When the communist purists came in, they accused her father of exploiting his workers. He told them he didn’t do that because he treated them good and paid them well. The communists didn’t see it that way and took away all that he had. His head was shaved on one side and he was forced to march in the street while everyone taunted and disrespected him. His daughter had three stripes on her school uniform to show that she was the top student in her class. Despite her hard work to earn them, the stripes were torn from her uniform in public and she was subjected to the same humiliation as her father. Her father didn’t let it bother him. The weekly humiliation parades were just something he had to do, then he forgot about it. On the other hand, his daughter never forgot the humiliation of going from the top of her class to the bottom just because her father had a business he’d worked to build. Her abilities and skills were the same, but were devalued to worthlessness by society.
The attempt to equalize everything and everybody by spreading the wealth was a total failure in China. Famine was widespread because the city dwellers shipped to the country to farm didn’t know what they were doing. The country people sent to factories to make steel didn’t know what they were doing and product quality was nonexistent. Shouldn’t the rest of the world learn from that and avoid making the same mistakes?
The old saying is that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Every society has issues and problems. Every form of government has good and bad. We need to study and learn what history can teach us so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Taking from the rich to give to the poor works only in legend and fairy tales. Hard, dedicated work is the best way to live a comfortable life.
Next week, a lighter blog about ordinary people. Nothing political. Too much of that going around anyway.

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