Parades and a cult of personality surrounding Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong were a part of China's brutal Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
Photograph by Joe Scherschel, National Geographic

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  • On August 13, 1966, China officially launched the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” The Cultural Revolution was a massive political campaign designed by Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and his wife, Jiang Qing, to strengthen their leadership and discredit their political opponents.
     
    The Cultural Revolution is often associated with the Red Guards. Mao had closed China’s schools as part of the Cultural Revolution, and groups of young people were organized into units (Red Guards) who violently opposed the “Four Olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Traditional Chinese names of businesses, streets, and even people were changed; examples of classic Chinese architecture were destroyed; and books were burned.
     
    The Red Guards also accused and publicly denounced teachers, elected officials, and even their parents. Mao’s political rivals were imprisoned or killed, and thousands of urban youths were “sent down” to do manual labor in rural areas.
     
    The Cultural Revolution only ended with Mao’s death ten years later. More than a million people had been killed, and even more were imprisoned, tortured, lost their homes and property, or forced into exile. Denied an education, former Red Guards and other young people of the Cultural Revolution are called the “Lost Generation.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    architecture Noun

    style and design of buildings or open spaces.

    associate Verb

    to connect.

    campaign Noun

    activities designed to achieve a social, political, or military goal.

    Cultural Revolution Noun

    (1966-1976) radical social-political movement in China characterized by military rule, terrorism, purges, and restructuring of the educational system.

    denounce Verb

    to publicly condemn or blame.

    destroy Verb

    to ruin or make useless.

    exile Noun

    forced ejection from a country, or a person who feels forced to leave.

    generation Noun

    group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

    imprison Verb

    to confine or put in a jail-like facility.

    launch Verb

    to start or instigate.

    manual Adjective

    done by a person, not a machine.

    massive Adjective

    very large or heavy.

    officially Adverb

    formally or with proper authority.

    organize Verb

    to coordinate and give structure to.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    proletarian Adjective

    having to do with the lower working class (proletariat).

    property Noun

    goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

    rival Noun

    opponent.

    rural Adjective

    having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

    torture Noun

    inflicting pain to force a victim to provide information.

    urban Adjective

    having to do with city life.