Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution
Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China in 1966 commenced a political campaign designed to protect and consolidate Mao’s power and eliminate any threat posed by dissenters and enemies. Artists, academics, and intellectuals were accused of being elitists, and their works were destroyed and banned. Mao called for the destruction of the bourgeois (upper-middle-class) elements of society, and he focused his attention on young people. He created the Red Guard. High school students who supported his extreme views and were encouraged to challenge teachers and government officials. Radical supporters of Mao tortured and abused those suspected of dissent. As the chaotic environment intensified, Mao ordered China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army, to help curtail the violence. In 1969, Mao introduced a new phase in the Cultural Revolution, one designed to purge society of class differences. Peasant youth attended urban schools and learned about Mao and his achievements. Individuals considered bourgeois were ordered to live and work among the peasants and were sentenced to hard labor, as were urban teenagers. Families were separated for years. As a government worker, Zhang was directly affected by the Cultural Revolution in this way, and she was separated from her family for four years.
The Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao in 1976. In the years that followed, China’s economy struggled to recover from the ruin it experienced during the Cultural Revolution. Peasant farmers, during the Cultural Revolution, could sell their products only to the government, and all reliance on foreign markets and aid had been halted. Aside from the rudimentary education offered to peasants, the educational system had all but collapsed as well. Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, instituted reforms designed to help support the economy and renew faith in the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. Within the party, leaders struggled to reshape the ideals, to reframe the way the original Marxist tenets had been interpreted by Mao and were now in need of reevaluation.
Deng Xiaoping and the Aftermath of the Cultural Revolution
Deng Xiaoping became the new premier of the People’s Republic of China in 1977. With Deng as chairman, the Communist Party pursued a new course, one that explored the economic benefits of market socialism. Under this system, the Marxist aim of an egalitarian, one-class society would be integrated with an economic policy that embraced a limited free market capitalist approach and would modernize China’s economy. Deng also focused on revitalizing the educational system and allowed many exiled intellectuals and academicians to return to their families. He encouraged tourism and lifted restrictions on journalists and artists. At the same time, he attempted to retain some control over the Party’s image. Some protestors were still sentenced to prison, and the more critical journals were banned. In 1979, the year Zhang published her collection of short stories Love Must Not Be Forgotten , China invaded Vietnam in a war over the Soviet presence in that region.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Zhang Jie, Published by Gale Group, 2010