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Ramifications of the GPCR on the People' Liberation Army in China
This research paper will discuss the effects of the Cultural Revolution in China on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) from 1966 to 1971. Mao's paranoia-driven modus operandi shifted the direction of the army through the Cultural Revolution proper (1966 to 1969) and into the early seventies. The army served as Mao's weapon to keep his plans in motion. Until the Red Guards, the main hub of revolutionary activity, enacted utter pandemonium and terror on the country did Mao replace these troublesome mobs with the organized force of the army. After a few years the army became a mighty force in China. The long-term results of the PLA's alterations, much like many other outcomes of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, harmed Chinese civilians. Additionally, the movement ended with receding PLA significance. Constant switches of control and strife between the PLA and government lead to issues in the army before Mao had even decided to once again remodel the system. Although the Revolution changed the focus of the army, it concluded with Mao turning his paranoia which began the GPCR against the PLA itself.
Mao's plan to remove divisiveness and covert tactics within the party manifested itself in the Cultural Revolution, and it ended up backfiring on the Chairman. However, his personal motives created an avalanche of issues. He gave the army the job of removing any organizations opposed to the Revolution. The Red Guards, a highly destructive group of Chinese youths, took control of most of the revolutionary activity. The PLA, on the other hand, often fought militant associations who ran counter to the army's agenda. This shows the lack of control which Mao exercised over the GPCR, and also how the People's Liberation Army stayed out of the main fray by combating outside forces. The army's name might imply it functioned for the good of Chinese civilians, but it served as the militant aspect of the government removing opposition. For example, the army may not have been removing the “four old” parts of society as the Red Guards did, but the PLA made it clear to the Rebel commands, the Revolutionary Rebel Workers' Headquarters, and Red Guards that the CCP meant business. The PLA arrested and killed thousands of these civilian group members, in such excess that people “report[ed] rivers blocked with bodies, and corpses washed up on the shores of Hong Kong.” This created discord in the bureaucracy. Mao had planned to renew vigor in proletarian classes, not annihilate them. Nevertheless, the army's establishment in 1946 by the Communist party during the war with the Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists indicated its affiliation with the leaders, not the masses. Mao's choice to change Shanghai's revolutionary committee (formerly the Shanghai Commune) emphasized this in February of 1967. Regular citizens, soldiers, and loyal cadres constituted this and other such committees. By the end of the month, this group reduced its workers' representative from five to one. This alliance exemplifies how the government began putting the interests of their own representatives over those of the common people; the maneuver required the PLA. When the authorities noticed “mass movements of refugees” made of those citizens against the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, “the People's Liberation Army massed troops at the border to prevent any from escaping into Hong Kong." The Cultural Revolution supposedly existed to uplift the proletarian classes. However, the power which the movement gave to the PLA prevented much significant emancipation.
Instead, since peasants (a class often opposed to the government) mostly comprised the PLA, tension arose and some troops even went against the Cultural Revolution. Time magazine in 1969 noted that “the countryside seems to want no part of purity. Passive resistance continues among the peasants — apparently with some connivance on the part of the army.” This indicates that the army felt stronger ties to their heritage than their governmental leaders. In fact, Time reported “complaints from revolutionary committees, which [were] the governing bodies in China, that lower-ranking officers at district and county levels [were] not following orders, [were] in fact making their own decisions . . . siding with the peasants.” These disagreements between revolutionary committees and army caused conflict. The former even went as far as “remind[ing] local commanders that the relationship between them was 'that between the leaders and the led.” This situation “aggravated Peking's decision to reinstall cadres who were ousted in the early purges of the Cultural Revolution.” The cadres were “rehabilitated and . . . sent . . . to straighten out the 'misled masses.'” The PLA resented the decision, “want[ing] no part of the prodigal cadres.” The conflict between the army and cadres stemmed from hierarchal power struggles. The set-up lead to problems as opposed to being conducive of revolution and unity because “the return of the cadres means loss of power for the army.” Dissent in the army gave rise to national efforts at improvement, beginning with “an unusually vigorous campaign 'to support the army and cherish the people.'” Yet this attempt did not match “the official prediction of imminent 'all-round victory.'” Seeing that without more specific direction the PLA would soon run amok, the government decided to replace the Red Guards with a more concrete system.
The factionalism within the People's Liberation Army due to the Cultural Revolution certainly created an enormous problem. Yet after these first few turbulent years, the role of the PLA in China saw a complete reversal. For a while (until the death of the minister of defense, Lin Biao, in 1971) the PLA controlled the revolutionary committees and dominated other governmental offices. Records show that “civilian party chairmen [were] ousted from the ruling revolutionary committees in Shantung, Shansi and Kweichow provinces”, leaving the way for 27 of the country's 29 provinces to be “under what amount[ed] to military rule.” Mao greased the wheels of this change by dissolving the Red Guards (a group which often fought with the army) and ensuring military men comprised a large portion of the new Central Committee of 1969. The damage of the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards made Mao “call in the troops, not only to restore order but also to administer the country.” This decision contradicted what Mao declared earlier: "the gun must never be allowed to command the party.”
Yet as 1970 arrived, Mao began having second thoughts about the upsurge of influence in the armed forces. He sought to “drop the criteria of revolutionary zeal and ideological purity that Lin and the PLA had propagated so assiduously since the 1960's.” Part of his motivation came from a dislike of Lin Biao, the head of the armed forces. In 1969, Lin had been “declared Mao's chosen successor”, but Mao apparently changed his mind and began a “three part policy he later referred to as 'throwing stones, adding sand to mud, and undermining the cornerstone.'” The year 1970, therefore, marks the beginning of the PLA's decline in national importance. Army officers, Lin himself, the Military Affairs Commission, and the troops around Peking all came under scrutiny or even attack. These efforts at reducing the army's strength helped the GPCR come full-circle for the PLA. Once again, the CCP shunted the People's Liberation Army to the side in order to take greater control.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution took a toll on the army, even while their prestige became augmented. During a time where not only revolution reigned but loyalty to the party took precedence, being a PLA soldier required restraint. Technically, both the Red Guards and the PLA strove to keep the party's plans in motion and encourage anti-revisionism. Yet the dissimilar methods conflicted. If one wanted to maintain the beneficial occupation of a PLA soldier (after three to four years of service, citizens usually received a profitable job, became a leader in their community, and possibly became a party member) then absolute party devotion and discipline proved necessary. Millions of Chinese men applied for army jobs, but only ten percent received one. This indicates that any solider with questionable behavior or fidelity (ex: brawling with Red Guards) could easily be replaced.
What with mental stress, political warfare, and a duty to uphold the revolution, the soldiers of the People's Liberation Army had much to handle. The Chinese people suffered as soldiers because of this, and suffered from the soldiers if they chose to reject the GPCR. Splits between the countryside and Peking, between soldiers and the government, and between the uncontrollable Red Guards and the PLA all stemmed from the effect of the Cultural Revolution on the army. Fighting the opposition, the revisionists, the old values, and eventually the orders of Mao all became aspects of the time period. Yet one would think that with so much propaganda and calls for conformity, China should have become united under the CCP. However, the convoluted aims of the GPCR, which in turn dictated the role of the PLA, mostly proved disruptive to nationalism and harmony. As the year 1971 ended, Mao's attempts to once again revise the Cultural Revolution's mechanisms pushed the PLA to the background. This left China with the common people still oppressed, damage to repair from the Red Guards, and an army once again adhering to the principle, "the gun must never be allowed to command the party.”
"The Army's Man." Time 96.8 (1970): 30. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.
"Divided Army." Time 90.6 (1967): 36. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.
Ebrey, Patricia. Cambridge Illustrated History: China. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 314, 316, 317. Print.
"Errant Army, Stubborn Peasants." Time 93.8 (1969): 32. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.
King, John. The Great Chinese Revolution: 1800-1985. 1st ed. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1986. 329-330. Print.
Spence, Jonathan. The Search for Modern China. 1st ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1990. 489, 609-613, 616. Print.