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Soong: Taiwan's Chairman Mao
Paul Lin
9/25/2003

`There are some politicians in Taiwan who constantly long for the authoritarian era, unable to fit in a democratic system, or who think they are infallible, and that they, just like Mao, have become gods. That is cause for concern.'

Following the 500,000-strong demonstration in Hong Kong on July 1, the deputy director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, Zou Zhekai, came out to say, "During the Great Cultural Revolution, people were out in the streets demonstrating all day long, criticizing this and struggling against that. As a result, the economy was on the verge of collapsing and people's lives became indescribably hard." According to this explanation, Hong Kong could become the capital of turmoil.

Zou was condemned for this statement, and even people within the left wing felt it was inappropriate. Unexpectedly, similar statements have been used in Taiwan to describe things happening along Taiwan's road toward democratization as a "cultural revolution." The two occurrences are similar in that both denounce and reject the democracy movement.

Even if Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou continues to repeat that he was quoting some Tai-wanese businessman, and that his words were taken out of context and distorted, two unavoidable facts remain regarding the use of such a quotation to describe the political situation in Taiwan.

First, Ma agrees with the businessman or he would not have quoted him. Second, the comparison is wrong even if the incident has no bearing on a referendum, because the chaos in Taiwan's political situation is the product of its democratic multiparty system. It has nothing to do with the Cultural Revolution.

Due to the calamity and great suffering the Cultural Revolution caused the Chinese people, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always prohibited discussion and publication of related materials in an attempt at eradicating it from people's memories.

While the average Taiwanese businessman will not understand the true situation during the Cultural Revolution, it is impossible that Ma, once the vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, wouldn't understand. That is why he would not admit to his mistake when it was pointed out.

So what was the Cultural Revolution really all about? As someone who experienced it firsthand, and who has spent many years studying it and thinking about the experience, I can offer a brief introduction.

The Cultural Revolution began in 1966. The reason was that tens of millions of people had died in famines created by the CCP's "Three Red Flags" -- the General Line of Socialism, the Great Leap Forward, and the People's Communes -- in the late 1950s.

Because of these disasters Mao Zedong had been forced to retreat to the back rows and hand the reins of power to Liu Shaoqi. Because he was unhappy about his position, Mao had his wife, Jiang Qing, and the military leader Lin Biao deify Mao with the help of propaganda. The army was first.

Mao then came out to start the Cultural Revolution's mass movement. He himself wrote the "Bombard the Headquarters" big-character poster and used the Red Guards to incite a rebellion. Across the country, he charged people with being "landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, bad elements, rightists, rebels, spies or capitalist roaders" to fight and eradicate Liu and his people.

Because the Cultural Revolution implemented "the Four Big Rights" -- the rights to speak out freely, air views fully, hold great debates and write big-character posters -- it was said to implement "Great Democracy." This was, in fact, not the case at all.

Mao first denounced the original Political Bureau before setting up the Central Cultural Revolution Group from which he led the Cultural Revolution. Jiang and other members of that group then indicated to the Red Guards who belonged to the "bourgeoisie headquarters."

The Red Guards then used "beating, smashing, robbing, grabbing and looting" to topple and even torture these people to death. Some Red Guards who attacked people belonging to the "proletariat headquarters" were labelled "anti-revolutionary groups" or "active anti-revolutionary elements."

Mao and Jiang even promoted "great disorder under heaven -- the more, the better," inciting struggles among the masses. Liu eventually lost power in the chaos.

"Great Democracy" was thus a way for the dictator to mobilize the masses in the name of democracy. When the people that were to be removed had been removed, and even people who were not supposed to be removed were affected, there was more discontent.

Mao then organized "Workers' Mao Zedong Propaganda Units" to replace the Red Guards. Red Guard leaders, regardless of which faction they belonged to, were taken prisoner. Because Lin had too many enemies within the army, and
because he had too high ambitions, Mao purged him too. Forced to flee, Lin died in an airplane crash during his escape. The facts surrounding the crash remain unclear to this day.

After Lin's death, Mao and Jiang turned to then premier Zhou Enlai. Zhou conscientiously carried out his duties and had a better standing among the people. Together with the enormous political and economic destruction caused by the Cultural Revolution, this led to the Tiananmen Incident following Zhou's death in 1976, when masses of demonstrators gathered in the Tiananmen Square in an anti-Mao demonstration. The demonstration turned out to be the biggest mass demonstration since the CCP had gained power.

Mao died not long after the excitement. Army leaders then used Hua Guofeng, whom Mao on his death bed had made his anointed successor, to initiate a coup and arrest Jiang and the other members of the Gang of Four, after which the Cultural Revolution ended.

Some conclusions can be drawn from these events.

First, the Cultural Revolution was a power struggle permeated with conspiracy and deceit within the top leadership of a dictatorship. It had nothing to do with democracy.

Second, it was led by a legendary leader and that is why the whole people could be blindly mobilized and why they fought each other.

Third, Mao's "Quotations" could only determine the thinking of hundreds of millions of people because there was a lack of free information and because no dissenting opinion was allowed.

The CCP admits that it was "unprecedented."

Taiwan is a diversified democratic society. No single leader holds sufficient power to be able to manipulate the masses into acting blindly according to his or her personal wishes. Seeds of personality cults must of course be eliminated.

Not long ago, a few slogans in a booklet for members of the "Friends of James Soong Society" were revealed; they "must study Soong's thought and identify with Soong's ideals," and "swear to protect Soong to the death," and so on. These slogans are similar to slogans from the Cultural Revolution; to "swear to protect Chairman Mao to the death" and to "read Chairman Mao's books, listen to Chairman Mao's words, act according to Chairman Mao's instructions, and be a good student of Chairman Mao's."

But as soon as these slogans were revealed, PFP Chairman James Soong had to clarify that they had nothing to do with him, and that is exactly the advantage of democracy.

Nevertheless, there are some politicians in Taiwan who constantly long for the authoritarian era, unable to fit in a democratic system, or who think they are infallible, and that they, just like Mao, have become gods. That is cause for concern.


Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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