About the Project
photographs presented on this web site were taken in March-April 1972
when I was a participant in the second delegation of the Committee of
Concerned Asian Scholars (CCAS) to the People's Republic of China
was my first visit to China and took place during a middle phase of the
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong's
decade-long (1966-76) ideological
crusade to purge China of all "reactionary" influences and keep the
country on the road towards his vision of communism.
was formed in March 1969 by faculty and graduate students in Asian
Studies in opposition to the war in Vietnam. (CCAS Statement of Purpose).
It also became a strong proponent for the normalization of relations
between the United States and the PRC. Because of the long-standing
Cold War hostility between the two countries, few Americans had visited
China since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 -- and few
foreigners of any kind had been there since the start of the Cultural
Revolution in 1966.
first CCAS delegation was invited to China in mid-1971 during the early
stages of Sino-American rapprochement, which had become publicly
visible only with the visit to China by the US table tennis team in
April of that year (see: Nixon's China Game: Ping-Pong Diplomacy).
The organization’s “progressive” political positions – and the fact
that there was an active chapter in Hong Kong made up of American Asia
scholars doing research –were among the most important serendipitous
factors that led CCAS to get such an early invitation to visit China. (For more on the first CCAS delegation to China, see Conversations
with History: Interview with Susan Shirk, Professor, School of
International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California
at San Diego.)
second CCAS delegation entered China from Hong Kong on March 10, 1972,
which was shortly after President Richard M. Nixon had concluded his
historic trip to the PRC (see: Nixon's China Game/The American Experience/PBS).
There were 29 members of the delegation, though we split up into two
traveling groups after just two days, each group taking a different
route through China until we came together again in Beijing on April
3rd. We left China and returned to Hong Kong on April 14th.
visit to China, even a very brief, geographically limited, and
politically restricted one, was a unique and rare opportunity at that
time not only because it was so early in the Sino-American détente, but
also because it was during the middle of Cultural Revolution. This
movement had been launched in 1966 when Mao unleashed millions of
student Red Guards to destroy the “four olds” (old ideas, old culture,
old customs, old habits and ferret out hidden counter-revolutionaries
in every nook and cranny of society.
of the wanton destructiveness, brutality, and factionalism of the Red
Guards, Mao ordered the suppression of the movement by the military in
1968. By early 1969, order had been restored to the country and
millions of Red Guards had been dispatched to the rural areas to be
“re-educated” by the peasants.
early 1972, when my delegation visited China, the overall political
situation seemed peaceful - on the surface. The Cultural Revolution was
then in a stage of consolidation and construction during which many of
the radical ideals and ideas of the movement were being put into
practice. “Capitalist Roaders” had been removed from power in party,
government, educational, cultural, economic, and other institutions.
Authority was in the hands of “revolutionary committees” made up of
political activists, officials (“cadres”) who had survived the purge,
and officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The military had
had a prominent role in Chinese politics since the suppression of the
Red Guards. But that was ending by early 1972 because, Lin Biao, the
head of the PLA and Mao's one-time close comrade and chosen successor,
had been killed in a plane crash in September 1971 allegedly after
attempting a coup d'etat against the Chairman. (See CNN.com: “A hero of the revolution falls hard.”)
Serve the People!
institutions we visited - including factories large and small, rural
people's communes, schools at all levels from daycare centers to
universities (which had only recently reopened after being closed since
near the start of the Cultural Revolution), museums, a prison, health
care facilities (clinics, surgical hospitals, a mental hospital),
residential neighborhoods - were all being run by revolutionary
committees, though with communist party leaders clearly in charge. All
of these institutions were ostensibly operating according to the
guiding principles of the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong Thought:
“Serve the People!” “Never Forget Class Struggle!” “Women Hold Up Half
photos on this web site present a glimpse of daily life in China during
this relatively stable interlude between the ferocious struggles that
define the essence of the Cultural Revolution. But even then an untold
number of people, particularly intellectuals, were suffering physical
and psychological persecution at the hand of radical power-holders -
part of a reign of terror that would intensify as Mao's estranged wife,
Jiang Qing and her three closest allies (“The Gang of Four”) attempted
to fill the power vacuum left by the fall of Lin Biao. Indeed, the
Cultural Revolution would be declared formally over in October 1976
only after the Gang of Four was arrested less than a month after Mao's
death. (See: Chinese Propaganda Posters, “Jiang Qing.”)
communist party leaders who engineered the arrest of Madame Mao &
Co. soon carried out their own purge of other radicals and began to
reinstate moderate leaders who had been ousted during the Cultural
Revolution - a process that led to the political resurrection of Deng
Xiaoping, who had been denounced as one of China's top capitalist
roaders in the mid-1960s.
And, as we all know, down the capitalist road is exactly where Deng took China..
Ponder... and Enjoy
want to thank the following people at Wellesley College without whom
bringing these images into the digital age would not have been possible:
Giuliana Funkhouser '04; Joyce Hsu '05; Mimi Lai '06; Devyani
Parameshwar '06; and Kenny Freundlich, Michael Hawkins, and David
O'Steen, all of Wellesley's Instructional Technology and Information