Let us return to strike the schools, thoroughly carry out revolution!
Artist: Beijing Middle and Lower Schools Revolutionary Teachers and Students Rebel Committee
Size (mm): 542x781
Condition: Good, heavy creasing and small tears to top margin, loss to top right corner, two 3cm tears to right margin
The hongwebing or Red Guards were a mass student revolutionary movement active during the early years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Initially composed mainly of university, high- and middle-school pupils, the movement spread to include workers and the military. The first Red Guard group is said to have originated at the middle school affiliated to Tsinghua University, where they criticised the intellectual elitism and bourgeois tendencies of the administration and attacked and beat the principal.
Mao Zedong had launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in May 1966 in an attempt to purge the Chinese Communist Party of political and ideological opponents and to regain control after his disastrous Great Leap Forward. Seeing the potential in the newly formed Red Guards, he lent the Tsinghua group his personal support by ordering their manifesto to be published in newspapers and broadcast on national radio. With this seal of approval groups were formed throughout the whole of China. In August 1966 Mao made an appearance at Tiananmen (see image) to review the 800,000-strong crowd assembled in the square, wearing the green military uniform favoured by the hongweibing and sporting their signature red armband. The personality cult surrounding Mao grew to fever pitch. The 'Four Olds' of Chinese society (old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas) were to be a principal target of revolution for the Red Guards. The groups rampaged across the country destroying museums, artworks, and temples, and attacking intellectuals, teachers and authority figures. Many different factions emerged, each declaring their own version of revolutionary action and unswerving loyalty to be truest to Mao, with the competition leading to physical violence. Education was widely disrupted with most secondary and tertiary level institutions closing completely between 1966 and 1968 - many of the teachers had been purged by the Red Guards, some of whom had acted to settle old scores. Secondary schools began reopening in 1968, but many universities remained closed until the early 1970s.
During the Cultural Revolution emphasis had been placed on 'pure' class background and revolutionary zeal rather than academic ability, leading to major problems in the education system. By 1967 the escalating violence and disruption to the economy had become so severe that the People's Liberation Army was mobilised to bring an end to the movement. Many of the groups resisted the forcible suppression, but by the summer of 1968 the remainder of the groups had been brought under control. Vast numbers were arrested, accused of participation in counter-revolutionary political conspiracies and imprisoned, tortured and executed. Most of the remaining Red Guards were sent to the countryside for re-education where Mao declared that they would learn from living in rural poverty.
Many posters of this period feature the distinctive red, black and white colouration of the Yan'an woodblock print, and are perhaps the among the most recognised Chinese propaganda posters in the West. Individual artists are often not credited, with precedence given to naming the many revolutionary groups set up to achieve the aims of the Cultural Revolution. Posters were produced by amateurs, often assisted by professional artists. Most of the professional design studios that produced posters were shut down at the time and Red Guards would often approach printers directly to have their posters published; to refuse would mean running the risk of being labelled as counter-revolutionary. In the poster's background the wall surrounding the school is covered by dazibao or 'big-character posters' which were hand-written posters used to communicate protest, launch new ideas or often to personally attack and denounce individuals.