From the archives: How The Times covered China’s Cultural Revolution

On May 16, 1966, Mao Tse-tung launched the Cul­tur­al Re­volu­tion, a cam­paign to purge Chinese so­ci­ety of old ways and cap­it­al­ist in­flu­ence, which gave rise to a dec­ade of polit­ic­al up­heav­al.

Los Angeles Times Hong Kong bur­eau chief Robert S. El­eg­ant and staff writer Don­ald Brem­ner chron­icled the move­ment’s rise, evol­u­tion and ef­fect on Chinese so­ci­ety as events un­fol­ded. Click on the thumb­nails be­low to read their cov­er­age.

“The linked crises are so sig­ni­fic­ant that their res­ol­u­tion — or fail­ure of res­ol­u­tion — will de­term­ine the shape of China for years to come.”

“A brief an­nounce­ment by Ra­dio Pek­ing, mon­itored in Hong Kong, con­firmed the com­ple­tion of the ma­jor phase of the most ab­rupt and vi­cious purge since chair­man Mao Tse-tung took con­trol of the party in the mid-1930s.”

“The Chinese Com­mun­ists use the word ‘cul­tur­al’ to de­scribe al­most every hu­man in­sti­tu­tion ex­cept the eco­nom­ic ones — and not in the nar­row­er sense used by the West. Chair­man Mao Tse-tung of the Com­mun­ist Party has him­self re­peatedly as­ser­ted that ‘cul­tur­al and in­tel­lec­tu­al activ­it­ies’ are more im­port­ant to the main­ten­ance of the party’s power than even eco­nom­ic activ­it­ies.”

Sketches re­prin­ted from the People’s Daily that il­lus­trate one phase of China’s cam­paign to wipe out “the old thought, the old cul­ture, the old cus­toms and the old habits cre­ated by the ex­ploit­ing classes for thou­sands of years.”

“A mass rally of 1 mil­lion ‘re­volu­tion­ary van­guards’ in Pek­ing’s Square of Heav­enly Peace were told by De­fense Min­is­ter Lin Piao, China’s new mas­ter, to ‘bom­bard the headquar­ters’ of his op­pon­ents with­in the party every­where in China.”

“The Red Guards, who had been in­struc­ted not to in­ter­fere with labor, will now in­vade factor­ies.”

“The dif­fuse — and of­ten con­tra­dict­ory — pur­poses of Com­mun­ist China’s Great Pro­let­ari­an Cul­tur­al Re­volu­tion have now been re­duced to one over­whelm­ing pur­pose — seiz­ing power.”

“A nearly total break­down of pub­lic or­der in the fi­nal days of 1967 has trans­formed Com­mun­ist China’s chief cit­ies and most pop­u­lous rur­al dis­tricts in­to vir­tu­al bat­tle­fields for polit­ic­al and crim­in­al ele­ments where or­din­ary cit­izens fear not only for their prop­erty but for their lives.”

“The ‘old cadres,’ who con­trolled the uni­versity’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and dom­in­ated the fac­ulty, had already been badly shaken by the Maoist at­tacks on their fel­lows in oth­er uni­versit­ies and the pub­lish­ing world when a plump, middle-aged in­struct­or in the Philo­sophy De­part­ment startled the cam­pus with an in­dict­ment writ large that was the ‘first big-char­ac­ter poster of the Great Pro­let­ari­an Cul­tur­al Re­volu­tion.’”

“Thick book­lets covered in red plastic sway­ing in their hands to the tempo, the re­frain crashed out from tens of thou­sands of throats: ‘Mao Tse-tung is the red, red sun in our hearts!’”

“The neo-Sta­lin­ists of the jerry-built, mil­it­ary-dom­in­ated Re­volu­tion­ary Com­mit­tees, which nom­in­ally rule the na­tion, are matched against the old rur­al lead­er­ship, bolstered by dis­sid­ent in­tel­lec­tu­als and of­fi­cials ‘sent down’ to be ‘re-edu­cated’ by the peas­ants.”

“Second broth­er has been sent down to a farm, and we haven’t heard in six months… Old Chang’s wife drowned her­self after he was taken away.”

“The wheel has come al­most full circle for the vet­er­an Chinese of­fi­cials who a few short years ago were be­ing de­nounced and cri­ti­cized by Red Guards and left­ist ex­trem­ists.”

“The mod­er­ate forces of prag­mat­ic Premi­er Chou En-lai are clearly pro­claim­ing their dom­in­ance over the di­vis­ive, ideo­lo­gic­ally mo­tiv­ated ‘left­ists’ who sur­round Chi­ang Ching (Mme. Mao Tse-tung).”