The Red Guards and The COINTELPRO Perps Today -- History of Mass Mind Control


[The Cultural Revolution and its Propaganda Methods]


     Last semester in the Film class, we watched a movie with The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night.”  This movie was about one day in the life of The Beatles, a famous U.K. rock band in 1960’s.  It comically depicted The Beatle’s intense fans, so-called “Beatle mania” chasing The Beatles members at a railway station, and screaming at the concert. Some of them are said to have fainted seeing The Beatles. “A Hard Day’s Night” was filmed in 1964. The movie conveyed the fans’ pure, innocent joy of the music fads in those days. As a matter of fact, about the same period many young Chinese idolized Mao Zedong, a charismatic leader of the modern China, just as the youth of the West did to The Beatles. Today we see increasing numbers of Chinese students from mainland China. They do not look much different from other Asian students on the surface. Nonetheless, what their country experienced only forty years ago is extremely different from what the Western society did. Hence, in this essay I would like to analyze why and how Mao’s Cultural Revolution made the Chinese youth being such fanatic followers of Mao.  [Advertisement] VPS

     Although the solid evaluation of the Cultural Revolution has yet to come, there is one comparatively common view among its critiques: the Cultural Revolution was basically a hidden power game. In fact, during this movement, people, from politicians to college students, attempted to take over power from their rivals. These conflicts often involed violent movements. In the meantime, the revolutionaries adopted various iconic symbols and political terms, many of which were newly coined during the revolution in order to create an image of their rivals as “the enemy of the people.” By the propaganda, Mao agitated people to attack their “enermies,” and also he self-justified various types of violence – mental and physical — such as public humiliation, ransack, and torture to death.


Propaganda and its psychological effects

     As mentioned above, Mao Zedong used sophisticated propaganda methods to direct people to revolutionary activities. According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, the definition of propaganda is explained as follows:

Propaganda is the advancement of a position or view in a manner that attempts to persuade rather than to present a balanced overview. Propaganda, seeking to effect attitude change, can be contrasted with education, which seeks to communicate knowledge.[1]


Hence, the characteristic of propaganda should be persuasion rather than coercion, and its purpose is to change attitude.

     As a matter of fact, Mao’s strategy for the Cultural Revolution was based on a propaganda method—Mencius’s thought. Mencius also taught to avoid coercion: “Draw the bow but do not release the arrow, having seemed to reap.”

[2] This saying means that the master illustrates the action to take, but leaves it to the disciples to carry out the action.[3]  Accordingly, Chairman Mao instructed people by saying: “Old authorities should be removed, smashed, and demolished by the peasants themselves.”[4]  Likewise, various kinds of propaganda were used during the Cultural Revolution in accordance with Mao’s doctrines. One of his famous doctrines is: “There is no construction without destruction.” Thus, such destructive actions during the revolution were justified in the name of Chairman Mao.  As well as Mencius, Mao’s propaganda directed people to attack their targets spontaneously rather than forcedly.

      Mao even agitated the revolutionaries to get involved into violent actions with his notorious phrase, “Revolution is not a dinner party,” but he left the details for excecutioners to decide. In this manner both the leaders, who directed people, and the perpetrators, who carried out the destruction, could excuse themselves to escape from the sense of responsibility for their wrong doings. In Sociology this psychological mechanism is called “Difusion of responsibility.” Its worst case is represented by a Nazis General’s words in the Nuremberg trial: “We were just following orders.”[5] These followers could even claim themselves to be “victims” of manipulator’s misguiding.


What to Destruct?

       Before the Cultural Revolution, the enemies of the Communist Party were quite obvious. What they had to defeat first was the Japanese Imperial Army; and after the end of the WWII, repelling the Guomindang out of mainland China became their goal. Since Mao and the Communist Party successfully completed this task in 1949, they enjoyed a brief victory, but the peace did not last long. Soon they started seeking another “enemy” within.

     In the late 1950’s The Great Leap Forward (G.L.F.) campaign was initiated by Mao. However, the campaign turned out to be a huge disaster, in which estimated 30 million people were killed by famine. Mao’s fault in such a fail of the G.L.F. was so obvious, but he blamed Marshal Peng Dehuai and ousted him in 1959 at Lushan because he had implied the defects of the G.L.F. This created a bitter split in the party leadership. Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping began to see Mao’s way as something opposite to the goal of building a modern state. Therefore, a dispute occurred between Mao’s line and Liu-Deng’s line. The former had fundamentalist approach and the latter had pragmatic approach. In spite of the undeniable failure of the G.L.F., Mao still believed that the communist goal of revolution could be realized by motivating people through moral incentives. In the meantime, Liu and Deng argued that people were most motivated by material incentives. In fact, more people turned to Liu and Deng. Finally, Mao began to attack them, labeling them as “Revisionists.” Thus, the Cultural Revolution started.     [Advertisement] VPS

     Soon the targets of the revolutionaries’ attack expanded much broader, that is, old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. These targets of destruction were well-known as “Four Old (sijiu).” Elimination of the “Four Old” from the society was formalized in the Party’s 16 Articles on the Cultural Revolution promulgated in 1966. However, this ambiguous slogan led to the expansion of the scope of their attack.

     In the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, anyone who was labeled as “Revisionist” became the target of the revolutionaries’ attack. Later, when the Red Guards were formed and the revolutionary movements prevailed among ordinary people as a class struggle, anyone whom the Red Guards regarded as “Bourgeois” became a victim of their assault. For the frustrated masses, it seemed not to matter whether the targets were real capitalists or not. Cheng Nian, the author of “Life and Death in Shanghai,” reflected one scene happening on the street of Shanghai in those days and described the chaotic situation as follows:

Suddenly I was startled to see the group of Red Guards right in front of me seize a pretty young woman. While one Red Guard held her, another removed her shoes and a third one cut the legs of her slacks open. The Red Guards were shouting, “Why do you wear shoes with pointed toes? Why do you wear slacks with narrow legs?” “I am a worker! I’m not a member of the capitalist class! Let me go!” The girl was struggling and protesting. In the struggle, the Red Guards removed her slacks altogether, much to the amusement of the crowd…The same Red Guard seized a young man and shouted, “Why do you have oiled hair?”…I saw that they (the Red Guards) were seizing women with permanent waves and cutting her hair off.[6]

Cheng also introduced an anecdote of a Red Guard who came to loot her house but complained that his house was also ransacked by another Red Guard.

“Incredible! It’s incredible! You know what I found when I went home? They are looting my house! How can they do this? My father and grandfather are both workers.”…The young man was full of indignation and almost in tears.[7]

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This chaotic circumstance was brought on by the ambiguous meaning of such terms as “Revisionist,” “Capitalist-Roader,” or “Bourgeois.” Since there were no clear definitions of these terms, the attackers were able to label almost anyone arbitrarily as such. Likewise, any people who were considered to be “counter-revolutionary” became the “enemy of the people” without questions, and faced fierce attack by agitated masses of people. Our History class textbook introduces a similar analysis from a Shanghai journalist:

Once labels were available, once you could attack someone by calling him a ‘Revisionist’ or a ‘Capitalist-Roader,’ the labels were used like cannon, just to attack anyone against whom you felt grievance of anykind, whether public or private.



  This indiscriminatory attack can be regarded as “displacement.” The college textbook “Social Psychology" defines displacement as: “The redirection of aggression to a target other than the source of the frustration. Generally, the new target is a safer or more socially acceptable target.”

[9] The textbook also reffers to the Scapegoat Theory to consider the contemporary incident of 9/11.

The Scapegoat Theory: Long before Hitler came to power, one German leader explained: “The Jew is just convenient…If there were no Jews, the anti-Semites would have to invent them.” In earlier centries people vented their fear and hostility on witches, whom they sometimes burned or drowned in public. In our time, it was those Americans who felt more anger than fear after the 9/11 attack who expressed greater intolerance toward immigrants and Middle Easterners.[10]

Rae Yang, the author of “Spider Eaters,” who experienced the Cultural Revolution, similarly concluded that the revolutionaries’ activities were derailed far from the communist’s ideal of building up an egalitarian society in China. She explained the confusion as follows:

Now I agree with Chairman Mao that class struggle continues to exist in China under socialist conditions – but not between landlords and poor peasants or capitalists and workers. It goes on between the Communist Party officials and the ordinary Chinese people![11]


No Construction Without Destruction

      Mao’s propaganda strategy in the Cultural Revolution continued not only expanding the range of their “enemy” to attack, but also increasing the degree of its unproductivity.  In the book “Marketing Dictatorship,” Anne-Marie Brady points out that all through the modern Chinese history, The CentralPropaganda Department has played a crucial role in shaping Chinese masses’thought. Although Mao also used various propaganda methods to lead the masses but he did not utilize the Central Propaganda Department. On the contrary, the Central PropagandaDepartment itself became a target of Mao’s attack during the Cultural Revolution, and Mao made them cease or reduce all their propaganda operation.[12]

      A History Professor at my University analyzes the reason why he did not utilize the Central Propaganda Department. According to the professor, Mao disliked the heads of the Propaganda Department because they were inclined to Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping line. Besides, these agents were slow in response to Yao Wenyuan's critique on the play “Hai Rui who was Dismissed from the Office,” a play to praise a good official—Mao claimed that the play was an implication of Peng Dehuai who was dismissed by Mao. This incident happened in the end of 1965 and early 1966, through which the Cultural Revolution was initiated. In addition, Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, hated those agents in the Propaganda Department because they knew too much of her background in Shanghai in 1930s—she married a number of times as a second-rate actress. Therefore, she dismisssed those people who were engaged in the official propaganda operation at the Ministry of Culture and Party Propaganda Department.

     As a result, for example, most newspapers became only six pages long, which consisted of either false or exaggerated report of “victory” in the Cultural Revolution, or detailed attacks on Mao’s ideological enemies. Music, theater, and film were dominated by only the eight model operas authorized by Mao’s wife.[13] For my research, I watched some videos of those operas. I found that a thousand-year-old Beijing opera was replaced with a story favorable to the communist party. In the opera the communists were always dipcted as protagonist and they beat up the “enemies” in the end.     [Advertisement] VPS

     Moreover, in order to smear the rivals Mao also encouraged the revolutionaries to use any gossips which appeared to destroy the reputation of the targets. The following article from the Yuan Gao’s book “Born Red” is an example.

 Beijing’s Red Guards had split into three main organizations, each of which published its own tabloid newspaper. These papers were full of sensational stories about the decadent lives of high cadres. One regional Party secretary was said to dine on all sorts of delicacies, and Red Guards who searched his home found four ox penises on the chopping board.[14]


As a matter of course, how many ox penises he ate had nothing to do with whether the revolution would lead to the ideal socialist nation of China. In fact, the true purpose of this ridiculous propaganda lies beneath the surface of nonesense. By ridiculing the opponent, the attakers could manipulate the rival’s image as a “person unworthy of respect.” Furthermore, disrespect arouses hostility of people, which makes it easier for them to excecute brutal assaults. By excecuting an actual attack, disrespect increases, and this leads to a further assault. The textbook of Social Psychology explains this spiral process as follows:         

Too often, criticism produces contempt, which licenses cruelty, which, when justified, leads to brutality, then killing, then systematic killing. Evolving attitudes both follow and justify actions.



Hence, such a savage activity as public humiliation was “enjoyed” among the agitated people. Onlookers were visually convinced that those humiliated people must be a wrong doer even though they were not sure about the truth. This attitude lowered the hurdle to participate in actual violent attack on the targets. Similar psychological manipulation can be observed in organized hate crime even today in many countries.   

     Speaking of public humiliation, I happened to witness it when I was travelling in mainland China in the summer of 1998. About 20-year-old girl was carried to a coner of the busiest street in the town. She was forced to stand in front of the crowd hanging a big card board from her neck like a sandwich man. As long as my reading of Chiese was correct, the board explained how she made a fraud. She lied to people that she was a university student but she was so poor that she could not pay the tuition. So she collected money as “donation.” Her fake student ID was attached to the description. Her face looked so sad and she was almost crying, but I could tell that she was trying not to cry, enduring this harsh humiliation. I realized how cruel this punishment was. It was obvious that public humiliation was designed for psychological devastation of the target rather than rectification of the wrong doer. Needless to say, this is against humanity. As a matter of fact, during the Cultural Revolution not a few victims chose committing suicide to avoid the psychological torture of public humiliation.


Use People’s Impulses

Nevertheless, historical documents of the Cultural Revolution indicate that many people joined willingly, not passively, in violence, destruction, rape, murder— and reportedly even cannibalism.[16] Chen Nian testified in her book: The Red Guards “seemed to be blissfully happy in their work of destruction because they were sure they were doing something to satisfy their God, Mao Zedong.”[17] In another occasion at so called “struggle meeting” of the Red Guards, she saw: “The men on the platform were smiling; the man in the tinted glasses seemed particularly pleased to see me suffer.”

  Our History class textbook also mentions Ma Bo, a Chinese best-seller non-fiction writer who actually participated in the revolutionary activity as a Red Guard. He later confessed how much he enjoyed beating people.[18]  Admitting that some revolutionaries acted because of positive motivation—a hope for a better society, from Psycho-analytical perspective we may observe jealousy, thanatos (destructive impulse), and cartharsis (release of negative emotions by watching other people’s tragedy) in the perpetrators’ behavior. If we carefully watch archive videos which recorded the Red Guards at public humiliation, we can easily detect their “joy” in the face. Hence, it can be said that Mao merely triggered people’s innate impulses to direct them to commit violent acts voluntarily. The problem is that it is disturbing to face the unfavorable aspects of ourselves. Probably this is why no individual person who was involved in this historical atrocity has ever made an official apology or expressed sincere remorse until today.


How to Spread Propaganda

     In addition to public humiliation, Mao officially encouraged people to express their thoughts through personal articles posted on the wall, so called “Big Character Posters (dazibao).” Most of the contents appeared to be personal attacks with groundless or fabricated evidence. Ironically, however, at least for a brief period, the first couple of years of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese people enjoyed freedom of expression and freedom of thought more than ever in their history until the criticisms went far beyond the government’s control and Mao began controlling it.[19] The following is an anonymous author’s shrewd criticism posted on a wall at Qinghua University during the beginning of Cultural Revolution.   

What does it mean when the Communists say they suffer so that the people may not suffer and that they let the people enjoy things before they do the same? ...These are lies.

We ask: Is Chairman Mao, who enjoys the best things of life and passes the summer at Jinwangdao (a former Emperor’s palace) and spend vacations at Yuquanshan, having a hard time? …Were the peasants, who had nothing to eat but bitter vegetables, enjoying the good life? Everyone was told that Chairman Mao was leading a hard and simple life. That son of a bitch! A million shames on him![20]


      Also Mao highly valued the effect of simple slogans as a means of spreading propaganda. In his own writing “Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan” published in 1927, Mao was amazed with the impact of simple slogans, cartoons, and speeches, which were quickly and widely penetrated peasants’ mind in rural area, many of whom were illiterate in those days. Mao wrote:

Even if ten thousand schools of law and political science had been opened, could they brought as much political education to the people, men and women, young and old, all the way into the poorest and remotest corners of the countryside, as they (simple slogans) have done in so short time?...You watch a group of children at play. If one gets angry with another, and stamps his foot, you will immediately hear from the other the shrill cry: “Down with imperialism!”



Pleased with this success, Mao used the similar strategy to propagate his thoughts during the Cultural Revolution. The collection of simple phrases of Mao known as “Quotations from Chairman Mao” is a most representative one. His words in short sentences were spread with widely distributed books so called “The Little Red Book.” Chairman Mao’s quotations were used in many situations. In order to describe how broadly and deeply the Quotations from Chairman Mao were permeated into ordinary people’s life, Yuan Gao depicted a comical scene which he saw one day in the market place:

I heard a housewife and a sales-woman trading quotations at a vegetable stall. The housewife was choosing tomatoes with great care, examining each one, since they were expensive in the winter. The displeased sales-clerk said, “Fight selfishness and repudiate revisionism.” The housewife replied, “We Communists pay great attention to conscientiousness.” They quoted back and forth until they were ready to fight. Onlookers used quotations to stop them.




What was Constructed after Destruction?


     As discussed in the previous paragraphs, propaganda did enhance destruction of the “anti-revolutionaries.” After destroying all his rivals, Mao reached the summit of his power. If Mao’s doctrine “There is no construction without destruction” is true, a certain construction should be expected after the relentless destruction.

     One of his significant achievements which his propaganda posters brought on was his sacred image. Since the Sun is often associated with the God of agriculture in agricultural countries, by overlapping his own image with the Sun, he succeeded in making himself look sacred. Finally, Mao started being idolized and worshipped as Demigod.

 Propaganda Poster during the Cultural Revolution:

 “Chairman Mao is the red sun of our hearts”


     However, other than the mere image of sacred Mao, it is truly difficult to find out actual contribution the Cultural Revolution made to its generation of Chinese. The anonymous author’s article posted on a wall at the Qinghua University desperately concluded their revolution:

Our pens can never defeat Mao Zedong’s Party guards and his imperial army. When he wants to kill you, he doesn’t have to do it himself. He can mobilize your wife and children to denounce you then kill you with their own hands! Is this a rational society? This is class struggle, Mao Zedong style![23]


As far as I researched, most documents showed similar deplores on such disastrous politics carried out under the name of the Cultural Revolution. In fact, quite a few people admitted that through these destructive activities they lost mutual trust in their society—and even within families. What is worse, the nightmare continued for ten years until Mao Zedong died in 1967. Only after his death people were able to begin progress in a constructive manner. Ironically, it seems as if the history proved that Mao’s doctrine was true in terms of the fact that “There was no construction without destruction of Maoism.”



     In fact, the only positive thing that I found in the historical pictures of the Cultural Revolution was the shining face of the youth which I mentioned in the beginning of this essay, comparing young people to the Beatle-mania of the West in the 1960’s. Regarding Mao Zedong as their “idol,” these young Chinese at Tiananmen Square appeared to be filled with genuine hope of constructing the new society in China. Despite of the countless deceptions and betrayals committed by adults during the Cultural Revolution, the enthusiasm of these Chinese youth never looked fake.    

     Some questions remain: Why could not the world largest population of Chinese stop such ridiculous, unproductive acts of a small number of propaganda prompters at earlier stage?  Why could not they use their energy in a constructive way? What can we learn from their history? Unless we sincerely tackle these questions, history will repeat itself as old saying suggests. 

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Brady, Anne-Marie. Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
Cheek, Timothy. Mao Zedong and China's Revolutions: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002.
Cheng, Nien. Life and Death in Shanghai. New York: Grove Press, 1987.

Gao, Yuan. Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1987.

Kimmel, Michael S, Amy Aronson, and Jeffrey Dennis. Sociology Now. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2009.

Myers, David G. Social Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2010.

Schoppa, R K. Revolution and Its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Schoppa, R K. Twentieth Century China: A History in Documents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.


[1] Corsini, Raymond J. Encyclopedia of Psychology. New York: Wiley, 1994.

[2] Mencius, VII, I,XLI, 3

[3] Cheek, Timothy. Mao Zedong and China's Revolutions: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002., P.65

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kimmel, Michael S, Amy Aronson, and Jeffrey Dennis. Sociology Now. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2009.

[6] Cheng, Nien. Life and Death in Shanghai. New York: Grove Press, 1987., p.65-66

[7] Cheng, Nien. Life and Death in Shanghai., p.87

[8] Schoppa, R K. Revolution and Its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2002., p.356

[9] Myers, David G. Social Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2010., p.360

[10] Ibid., p.325

[11] Yang, Rae. Spider Eaters: A Memoir. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997., p.163

[12] Brady, Anne-Marie. Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008., p.38


[14] Gao, Yuan. Born Red: A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1987., p.164

[15] Myers, David G. Social Psychology., p.207

[16] Schoppa, R K. Revolution and Its Past., p.365

[17] Cheng, Nien. Life and Death in Shanghai., p.73

[18] Schoppa, R K. Revolution and Its Past., p.356

[19] Brady, Anne-Marie. Marketing Dictatorship., p.39

[20] Schoppa, R K. Twentieth Century China: A History in Documents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004., p.148

[21] Cheek, Timothy. Mao Zedong and China's Revolutions., p.66

[22] Gao, Yuan. Born Red., p.319

[23] Benton, Gregor, and Alan Hunter. Wild Lily, Prairie Fire: China's Road to Democracy, Yan'an to Tian'anmen, 1942-1989. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1995.



The Writer of 『拝啓 ギャングストーカー犯罪者の皆様』(Dear COINTELPRO Criminals) and <集団ストーカーの死> The Death of Gangstalker; also Co-Editor of 「新しいタイプの人権侵害・暴力」 Unprecedented Human Rights Violation

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