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Fifty years ago, Mao Zedong unleashed the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long upheaval that had dramatic, often violent effects across China.Here is an overview of those tumultuous years: The movement was fundamentally about elite politics, as Mao tried to reassert control by setting radical youths against the Communist Party hierarchy.In February 1967 many remaining top party leaders called for a halt to the Cultural Revolution, but Mao and his more radical partisans prevailed, and the movement escalated yet again.
But there were precursors in the months and years before that. 9, 1976, and the subsequent arrest of the Gang of Four, a radical faction of four political leaders including Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, in October.
Although the Cultural Revolution lasted a decade, much of the most extreme violence occurred in the first few years.
During the early 1960s, tensions with the Soviet Union convinced Mao that the Russian Revolution had gone astray, which in turn made him fear that China would follow the same path.
Programs carried out by his colleagues to bring China out of the economic depression caused by the Great Leap Forward made Mao doubt their revolutionary commitment and also resent his own diminished role.
The Cultural Revolution had roots in the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward, the collectivization of agricultural and industrial output that precipitated a famine that left as many as 45 million dead.
Mao was blamed and partly sidelined by Communist Party leaders who pulled back some of the most extreme collectivization efforts.
Intellectuals, people deemed “class enemies” and those with ties to the West or the former Nationalist government were persecuted. Some, like the future leader Deng Xiaoping, were eventually rehabilitated.
Others were killed, committed suicide or were left permanently scarred.
But it had widespread consequences at all levels of society.
Young people battled Mao’s perceived enemies, and one another, as Red Guards, before being sent to the countryside in the later stages of the Cultural Revolution.