Why did Mao Zedong start the Cultural Revolution?



The Cultural Revolution, initiated by Mao Zedong, was a socio-political movement that took place in China from 1966 to 1976. Mao, the Chairman of the Communist Party of China, launched this revolution to regain control over the party and the country. This article aims to explore the motivations behind Mao’s decision to start the Cultural Revolution, analyzing various factors that contributed to this significant event in Chinese history.

Mao’s Consolidation of Power

1.1 Rise to Power:

Mao Zedong first came to power in 1949 after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) successfully overthrew the Nationalist government. He became the founder of the People’s Republic of China and served as the Chairman of the CCP. However, Mao faced numerous challenges to his authority within the party and wanted to strengthen his position.

1.2 Threats to Mao’s Authority:

Over time, Mao’s policies and leadership style faced criticism from within the party. The Great Leap Forward, an economic and social campaign launched by Mao in the late 1950s, resulted in a disastrous famine and economic decline. This failure led to a loss of confidence in Mao’s leadership, and some party members began questioning his policies.

Social and Political Factors

2.1 Factionalism within the Party:

The Chinese Communist Party was not a homogenous entity, and various factions existed within it. Mao perceived these factions as a threat to his authority and believed that they were attempting to undermine his leadership. By starting the Cultural Revolution, Mao aimed to eliminate his political rivals and consolidate his power.

2.2 Ideological Purification:

Mao believed that the party had deviated from its revolutionary ideology and had become corrupted by capitalist and revisionist influences. He saw the Cultural Revolution as a way to purify the party and society from what he considered to be bourgeois and reactionary elements.

2.3 Redressing the Imbalance:

Mao also aimed to address the growing inequality between the urban and rural populations in China. He perceived that the urban elites were exploiting the rural masses, leading to a class divide. By starting the Cultural Revolution, Mao sought to rectify this imbalance and empower the rural population.

Mao’s Personality and Legacy

3.1 Cult of Personality:

Mao fostered a cult of personality around himself, positioning himself as the supreme leader of the Chinese people. He believed that his ideas and ideologies were above criticism, and anyone who challenged his authority threatened the stability of the party and the country. The Cultural Revolution provided a means for Mao to reinforce his cult of personality and suppress dissent.

3.2 Legacy of Maoism:

Mao intended the Cultural Revolution to be a continuation of the Chinese revolution, ensuring that his ideology would be firmly entrenched in the country’s future. By mobilizing the youth and promoting revolutionary fervor, Mao aimed to create a generation of loyal followers who would uphold his ideas even after his death.


FAQ 1: What were the main goals of the Cultural Revolution?

The main goals of the Cultural Revolution were to consolidate Mao’s power, eliminate political rivals, purify the party and society from perceived bourgeois elements, address social inequality, and reinforce the cult of personality around Mao.

FAQ 2: Did the Cultural Revolution achieve its objectives?

The Cultural Revolution had mixed results. While it allowed Mao to regain control over the party and remove his political rivals, it also caused widespread social and political upheaval. The revolution failed to address the underlying issues it aimed to resolve, and the country suffered significant economic and social consequences.

FAQ 3: What were the key methods used during the Cultural Revolution?

The key methods used during the Cultural Revolution included mass mobilization of the Red Guards, ideological indoctrination, public humiliation and persecution of individuals labeled as “counter-revolutionaries,” and the promotion of Mao’s Little Red Book as a guide for revolutionary thought.

FAQ 4: How did the Cultural Revolution impact Chinese society?

The Cultural Revolution had a profound impact on Chinese society. It led to the destruction of cultural heritage, the breakdown of social order, and the loss of millions of lives. The education system was disrupted, and intellectuals were targeted, resulting in a significant loss of knowledge and expertise.

FAQ 5: How did the international community respond to the Cultural Revolution?

The international community had mixed reactions to the Cultural Revolution. Some leftist groups and leaders praised Mao’s revolution as a genuine attempt to achieve socialist ideals. However, many countries, including the Soviet Union and Western nations, expressed concern over the violence and instability caused by the revolution.

FAQ 6: How did the Cultural Revolution end?

The Cultural Revolution ended in 1976 with Mao Zedong’s death. After his passing, the Chinese government, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, initiated policies to dismantle the radical aspects of the revolution and restore stability to the country.

FAQ 7: What is the legacy of the Cultural Revolution?

The Cultural Revolution left a lasting impact on China’s political, social, and cultural landscape. It shattered traditional values, disrupted the education system, and caused deep divisions within society. The scars of the revolution are still visible today, and discussions surrounding its legacy continue to shape Chinese politics and society.


Mao Zedong’s decision to start the Cultural Revolution was driven by a combination of factors, including his desire to consolidate power, eliminate political rivals, purify the party, address social inequality, reinforce his cult of personality, and secure his ideological legacy. However, the revolution had profound and often devastating consequences for Chinese society, leaving a lasting impact that is still felt to this day.

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