Why did Chinese youths support Mao so enthusiastically during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s? What convinced them to support Mao?

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Mao was highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party's political leadership. To him, it was taking China down the capitalist road, presiding over a system that was ossifying into the kind of creaking structure which he saw and despised in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev. Although Mao was still the...

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Mao was highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party's political leadership. To him, it was taking China down the capitalist road, presiding over a system that was ossifying into the kind of creaking structure which he saw and despised in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev. Although Mao was still the most powerful individual in the People's Republic, by the late 1950s his influence was on the wane. A series of disastrous policies—most notoriously The Great Leap Forward—had damaged his credibility in the eyes of many of the Party's most senior cadres.

But Mao still had the enthusiastic support of millions of young people, to whom he appeared like some kind of god. Most of them had never experienced life under anyone but Mao. Right throughout their childhoods, they were constantly indoctrinated with Mao's ideology, his sayings, even his poetry. Chairman Mao was the father of the nation, the presiding genius of the Revolution, a man who more than anyone else had founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. What's more, Mao was always right.

In common with many other people living under a dictatorship, the Chinese tended to believe that any problems in the system were as the result of wicked advisers or deliberate acts of sabotage. This was the only way they could reconcile the grim realities of life with the image of Mao's God-like omnipotence that was constantly presented to them.

Despite his advancing years, Mao had never lost any of his ideological zeal. Yet as he surveyed the contemporary political scene, he felt that the Party was no longer on the same page. By taking China down the capitalist road, it was showing a lack of commitment to the cause of revolution. The young people of China, then, were Mao's natural allies in the Cultural Revolution. They too longed for an infusion of much-needed revolutionary zeal into a political system that appeared to be losing its way. Chinese Communism needed new blood, new thinking, new ideas if it were to revive and take the revolution to the next level.

Mao understood all too well how intoxicating this message would be to the younger generation of Chinese. He was effectively making them partners in the new revolution, giving them the joint responsibility of overthrowing the old system and building a new China on its smoldering ruins. For years, young people in China had felt ignored by the elderly Party leadership. Now they were being encouraged to get involved in administering the final death blow to a system that, according to die-hard Maoists, was in terminal decline. Taking all these factors into consideration, it's not surprising that millions of young people across the length and breadth of China responded with such wild enthusiasm to Mao's call for national and ideological renewal.

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The youth of China supported Mao largely out of the idealism and zealousness that can often come with youth.  In the West, we had youths doing things like becoming hippies and trying to change the world in that way.  In China, idealistic youths of the time, stirred up by Mao and his people, turned to the Red Guards and promoted the Cultural Revolution.

Young people in general tend to be idealistic.  They tend to think that they can change the world if those older than them would only listen.  In China, youths were being encouraged to think in this way.  They were being told by Mao and his supporters that they needed to rise up and cleanse their country of the negative influences of the older people above them who were not sufficiently revolutionary.

So, the Chinese youth were encouraged in a direction that they were already inclined to go.  They were encouraged to indulge in their propensity toward idealism and zealotry.

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