Cultural Revolution

By Deane Barker

This was a political movement in China in the late 1960s. Chairman Mao Zedong had lost power due to the failure of the The Great Leap Forward, and he was concerned that he was losing his grip on the Communist Party. He began the Cultural Revolution by stirring up fears that capitalists had infiltrated the country.

The Cultural Revolution gave rise to “Red Guards,” which were informal groups of students who fought each other in a battle to “purify” the Communist Party. The result was widespread chaos, including mass murder, rape, and even cannibalism in some areas.

The program official started in 1968. The active period was 1968 and 1969, though it didn’t officially end until Mao died in 1976. In 1981, the Chinese Communist party condemned the Cultural Revolution.

The total death toll – directly and indirectly – is estimated from the hundreds of thousands, up to 20 million.

Why I Looked It Up

It was a plot point in The Three-Body Problem

I had read about the Cultural Revolution in high school history, but over the years, my recollection had faded. I was getting it confused with The Great Leap Forward.


Added on

In Chip War:

Most of China’s scientists resenting [Mao] for ruining their research – and their lives – by sending them to live on peasant farms to study proletarian politics rather than semiconductor engineering. One leading Chinese expert in optics who was sent to the countryside suvived rural reeducation on a diet of rough gains, boiled cabbage, and an occasional grilled snake, as he waited for Mao’s radicalism to subside. While China’s small cadre of semiconductor engineers were hoeing China’s fields, Maoists exhorted the country’s workers that “all people much make semiconductors,” as if every member of the Chinese proletariat could forge chips at home.

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