Mao wins in the end.....Part 4
Lu Dingyi was no Wu Han. He was no intellectual. No chronicler of Ming History. But like Wu Han he was one of Peng Zhen’s “men”. Indeed, his prestige within the Party was quite impressive.
A veteran of the Long March. His Communist Pedigree was beyond reproach. Unlike Wu Han, he had not secretly joined the CCP. Indeed, he rose so high and so far, he nearly made it into the Politburo itself. Making only “alternate” status.
Lu Dingyi was a true Red. Lu Dingyi knew everyone. He was no mere “Revolutionary”.
Lu Dingyi also controlled the Beijing newspapers. He controlled The Press. And in accordance with Peng Zhen, and Liu Shaoqi, believed politics should be kept out of the military, the economy, and well…everything. And Mao disagreed.
Mao felt Politics should be the guiding principle for everything.
Yao Wenyuan’s article was thus blocked from being published in Beijing. Thus it was not published in the People’s Daily. China’s version of the New York Time and Washington Post rolled into one.
And until it could get published Mao was left to stew in his Hangzhou villa.
It was then that Mao finally realized the only way to go after who he really wanted to topple, which was everyone not aligned with him, ie nearly the entire Communist Leadership Establishment, was not by frontal attack, but through more indirect means.
In the past I’ve spoken of Halberstam’s book The Best and Brightest. How America’s leaders, despite their skill, their experience, their overbearing intelligence, their Rand credentials, still managed to bog American down in the Vietnam War.
Well, Mao wanted to take his version of The Best and Brightest and for lack of a better phrase, “wipe them out”. Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi, Yang Shangkun, Peng DeHuai, Peng Zhen, etc. His vision of a Future China would not include them. The future of China could only be written by one man.
One by one they would fall by the wayside. Imprisoned, death in prison, etc. There is nothing
Anti-Chinese about this: these are facts.
The beginning salvo was his decision to destroy something of his own creation; he chose to go after something called the “Five Man Group”. This committee was to tackle the vague problem of “culture”. Mao wished to make culture more a tool of the Party. And culture included plays, and one play in particular came to mind: Hai Rui Dismissed from Office.
Peng Zhen, the leader of the committee like everyone else was surprised by Yao Wenyuan’s vitriolic attack on his protégé, Wu Han. As was Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi, the promoters of a more practical (read liberal and capitalist) economy.
In essence, this Yao Wenyuan threatened them all. They knew it and Mao knew it, and Mao knew they knew it.
In early 1966, Peng Zhen struck back and declared there was nothing wrong with Wu Han’s play; it was an academic exercise only and certainly not an attack on Mao. Peng than waited for Mao’s next move.
Its here we have to stop again and ponder one more time the What If’s of Chinese History….?
First of all Peng Zhen was most foolish allowing Wu Han unfettered license to publish such an explosive play. Yet one most remember the only reason it was made into a Peking Opera was because of its original popularity in pure story form. The People loved it! Yet the People simply took it at face value. Probably only in a population of 600 million were there more than maybe a few thousand that really knew what was taking place.
As one wonders what would have happened IF Sun Weishi had simply married Lin Biao and IF Sun Weishi had not beaten out Jiang Qing for the lead role in some long forgotten play and along with Wang Guangmei usurped her place in the female hierarchy, what if that dumbass Peng Zhen had simply stamped out Wu Han’s play? Better yet, just not allow it to be made into an Opera for all the world to see?
While writing this I realized I was wrong about something I’d earlier mentioned. Lu Shan was NOT the last time China’s establishment would have to peacefully keep the Chairman retired. Rather the last time was the interlude between 1962 and 1966. China’s leaders were different this time around. While Mao was clearly running China during the 50’s, it was obvious to all the 60’s were different.
The Chinese Leadership Establishment was running China in the 60’s. Not Mao. By 1962 Mao was nearly 70 years old! A great time to call it quits! Rest on one’s “laurels” if you will. Let others manage the difficulties of running such a large country. After all, do revolutionaries make good managers of governments? Let the cogs run the machine.
But Mao just couldn’t let it go and China’s Elite just couldn’t do what it had to do. Why? Did they think they could outlast him? Ok, fair enough. Did they think they had the numbers game in their favor? They did. Or was their deadliest mistake simply to lose their “fear” of The Man?
I think it was. Just look at Peng Zhen.
Peng Zhen disrespected The Boss and paid the price. He deserved his fate, if only because of his lack of caution. After all, HIS Laoda was the President of China!
While Mao couldn’t get his own articles published in Beijing, and while he stewed pacing back and forth semi-retired in Hangzhou, all the same he was still The Man.
Mao first laid the groundwork by having Lin Biao fire the man that had replaced Peng Dehuai as the military commander of China’s army, a guy named Luo Ruiqing. He then imprisoned Yang Shangkun, the fellow that managed the day to day operations if you will, of the Party. With Mao firmly in control of the Army, and the daily comings and goings of The Machine, he was ready for his next move. All he had to do was wait for Peng’s.
Upon Peng Zhen’s Committee of 5 making its declaration, they unwittingly exposed themselves to Mao. Mao now had the means at his disposal and he ordered the breakup of the Committee. After all, hadn’t he created the committee? He apparently did not like, nor accept the decision they gave. And who was on the Committee? Lu Dingyi of course, the fellow that controlled the People’s Daily. Who else was on the Committee? None other than the editor of the People’s Daily.
In May of 1966, they were all purged. Lu Dingyi was imprisoned for 13 years. Wu Han was toppled as well. Peng Zhen was left exposed. He knew it.
With the arrest of both Wu and Lu, Peng was easy pickings. Peng likewise was imprisoned until after Mao’s death.
And just like that Mao’s path to Liu Shaoqi was wide open.
One subordinate at a time, Mao was inching closer to his real target, none other than the President of China himself. Liu Shaoqi knew this, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was left dangling.
In sum, Mao just outsmarted everyone. China’s leadership never saw Yao Wenyuan coming. Didn’t know who he was. And they had forgotten all about that most powerful of weapons that Mao had at his disposal. A weapon they themselves had given him from early on. Helped develop just for his use actually. Making sure only The Chairman Himself possessed it and no one else. Trusting it would never be used against them.
They had forgotten about Mao’s Cult of Personality. And even more deadly, they had forgotten about his willingness to use it.
How many times must I bring up Lushan?
What did Mao say than, when in the room facing down Peng Dehuai, the venerated leader of China’s military and undisputed veteran of China’s Revolution? The Man that saved North Korea from extinction!
“I’ll go out to the countryside and start my own Army!”
In essence, if they dared to take down Mao, he would simply start a civil war. That’s all. The unspoken implication being he would win and they would lose.
One could probably see the fear in their eyes when he said that.
But they were cowed. And in a way reasonably so. After all, what had THEY accomplished?
But by 1966 it was different. The Deng’s, the Liu’s, etc had accomplished one hell of a lot. And were that more confident in their abilities. And that less confident in Mao’s. Let’s be honest: they had fixed The Chairman’s mistakes. By 1966 they weren’t as cowered of The Great Helmsman as they were in 1959.
Shortly afterward Beijing publishes Yao Wenyuan’s rebuke of Wu Han. For all practical purposes the real Cultural Revolution had begun.
And just like in 1959, China’s leaders lost their collective voice. United in bettering China, when faced with the Will of Mao and this cult of their own making, they were simply overwhelmed. And China's prestige paid the price.
June, 1966 The People’s Daily calls for the purging of all “imperialists” from the Chinese government. The article is obviously aimed at Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi.
July 1966, Liu Shaoqi is demoted. He gives a public speech where Mao infamously interrupts him several times. He and Deng Xiaoping are both eventually arrested. Whereas Liu dies on a cold concrete floor, Deng is only sent to a tractor factory.
So it is in 1966 China’s economy comes to a full stop. It regresses. Not as long as one may think, though. It only regresses for two or three years. But the reforms are taken away. China’s launching pad is removed.
But what if Mao had just stayed in his Hangzhou villa? What if he had simply left well enough alone?
This would have been asking too much of Mao, don’t you think? How does one walk away from absolute power? How many emperors have done this?
When George Washington said he would only serve two terms as President what did King George lll say in return?
“If he does that he will be the greatest man in the world.”
But history is only fun if we can ask. Mao was 73 in 1966. Deng Xiaoping was a full decade younger. If China could have instituted a 改革开放 in 1966 wouldn’t China be a different story today?
One can say a lot about “what if in 1966….”