We turn for the first time to events in the People’s Republic of China. Mao Zedong, the aging revolutionary and leader of the PRC, launches a last-ditch effort to ensure his continued relevance in a fractious governing party: the Cultural Revolution. Millions of people, mostly young, fan out through the cities and countryside enforcing the tenets of “Mao Zedong Thought,” while other Communist leaders, like Lin Biao and Zhou Enlai, try their best to rein in the chaos from behind the scenes without risking their own necks. The result is years of political and cultural chaos and millions of deaths.
This episode hews the closest to real history of any episode in Age of Confusion thus far. Almost everything discussed here is factual and historical: the background of the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s reasons for launching the Cultural Revolution, the cult of personality surrounding him, his ambitious wife Jiang Qing, and the political chaos that raked China as a result of his efforts. The reasons why this part of the story is so close to real history is because, isolated from the rest of the world as China was in the late 1960s, events taking a different course elsewhere probably wouldn’t have prevented the Cultural Revolution which was in the works as early as 1962.
There are a few differences between the story presented here and real history. Mao’s death, as presented here, occurred several years later in real life. The Cultural Revolution did not really end until that happened, in 1976. Lin Biao, head of the People’s Liberation Army, was for a time Mao’s preferred successor, but in real life as the Cultural Revolution wore on he fell out of political favor. Lin died in a mysterious plane crash in September 1971 which may have been engineered by Mao. Zhou Enlai, who also died in 1976, was the de facto leader of China in this period.
Zhou Enlai (left), Mao Zedong and Lin Biao (right) during the real Cultural Revolution, 1967.
Next Episode (Bonus, Recap & Explainer): October 3, 2021
Next Regular Episode: October 10, 2021