Last night I went to a CCFS lecture on China––"Before and After the 1978 Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee"––which was not as tedious as it sounds. The lecturer was Professor Charles Burton of Brock University, a specialist in Chinese history. In 1978 he was a student studying ancient Chinese thought in Shanghai but also taking in the mood and manners of his fellow students, mainly older than he. They were the first class to graduate from Fudan University (in 1981) after the Cultural Revolution had come to an end.
We heard a few of Mao's sayings, e.g. Let the past serve the present and Let foreign things serve China. Dr. Burton's comrades in those days had little or no experience of foreign things and he told how they hung his cheese (sent from his family) on a pole out of the window because it smelled so suspect. The students had all been in the Red Guard at one time or another and were supposed to report on the foreigner's behaviour. They knew he listened to American jazz on his headphones but they protected him, claiming that he was listening to China Radio news instead.
"I loved those guys!"
Children learned about the British and the Japanese incursions into China, so humiliating to the Chinese national pride. The lecture seemed to imply that the Chinese are still suffering from this "defeat at the hands of barbarians," even now. The point / theory of the social revolution led by Mao was that it would make China dominant again. It was largely a peasant revolt, at first. Landlords would be done away with, and not only landlords but also rats, birds, flies, prostitutes, petty criminals and so on. There were campaigns of wilful destruction against all of these groups. The attacks on birds, though, led to an unfortunate proliferation of insects.
After 1949 the Stalinist model of a planned economy took shape. Steel was the main thing, the product that would transform China. Every household was registered, so that the government would know whom they were controlling and where everyone was. Farmers (the impoverished class) were prevented from entering the cities, therefore there were few slums. University graduates were deliberately sent away to the borders of China to develop these regions and traditionalist thinkers were insulted and demonised (called "cow spirits" and such). Food and cotton were rationed and of course intellectual types were permitted less than the workers. Not until 1979 were the academic youth of Shanghai allowed to return to the city for its May Festival, after 13 years in exile. Their banners made a big impression on the young Charles Burton. "Give me back my youth!" one said.
In the 70s, Volume V of Mao's thoughts appeared including his list of the Nine Stinking Categories of people to be hated:
At 5:30am every day, a "sunrise song" was played over the loudspeakers at the university––The East is red! First it was played on xylophones, then by an orchestra, and the third time around by the full orchestra and mass choirs, by which time the campus was thoroughly awake. This would be followed by compulsory physical exercises. One day, that usual music was suddenly replaced by the broadcast of a tango, and The East is red! was never heard again.
Seek the Truth from Facts read the next slogan (i.e. facts, not Marxist ideology); this was the period when the Gang of Four was tried and condemned. Mao's wife claimed not to be so rich as she was accused of being, but simply living on Mao's royalties, so to speak. When Dr. Burton arrived in Shanghai two portraits hung in the classrooms, those of Chairman Mao and Chairman Hua Guofeng.
The lecturer commented that his contemporaries in China had so little control over their jobs, their homes, what they could buy, that this led to a psychology of passivity and a dispirited outlook. Nowadays, they are nearly all civil servants living and working in Beijing, and rich.