The Chinese Cultural Revolution: Lessons for America's Cancel Culture (

Soon enough the cancelers will find themselves open to cancellation.

On September 13, 1971, Lin Biao, China’s defense minister, died in an airplane crash. What made his last flight memorable was that he was fleeing to the Soviet Union after he was discovered plotting a coup against party General Secretary Mao Zedong. Lin’s plane ran out of fuel. Or so goes the official story advanced by the Chinese Communist Party.

This was an early and extreme version of the “cancel culture” so prevalent in America today. Fall afoul of the PC polizei and you are likely to find yourself in a professional and personal plane crash. Your best hope is to grovel before your oppressors, demonstrating sufficient abject remorse and engaging in enough self‐flagellation to win relief from the draconian sentence normally imposed. Luckily, the current penalties for independent thought remain less those than under Mao.

Lin was one of the CCP military leaders who made the revolution a success. Within a decade of the communists taking power he became minister of national defense and vice premier. By the end of the 1960s he was officially anointed as Mao’s successor — a dangerous position to occupy while the Red Emperor was still alive. Especially during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Like many great historical figures, Mao had enormous skills and weaknesses. The son of prosperous peasants, he joined the nascent communist party, rose within the ranks, and drove it to victory. On October 1, 1949, he announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

However, even after the CCP’s victory he fueled conflict. In the early years came consolidation of victory across his vast, populous nation: there were many class enemies and opponents of the revolution to neutralize and punish. He was the dominant voice demanding the PRC’s entry in the Korean War, turning the imminent allied victory over North Korea into a bloody two‐and‐a‐half‐year stalemate.

He briefly invited criticism of the party leadership, before turning on those who obliged. He then led successive drives against those seen as adversaries, including the Sufan Movement, which aimed at supposed counter‐revolutionaries, and Anti‐Rightest Movement, which targeted any and all detractors, even on the far left. Next came the disastrous Great Leap Forward, which lead to mass starvation and the deaths of tens of millions. Even senior party officials feared telling him the truth about his bizarre directives, which ranged from backyard steel production to collective agricultural cultivation. Eventually he was pushed aside into a more ceremonial role.

Not one to subordinate his ambition to the welfare of his more than 700 million countrymen — he made light of the threat of nuclear war because he believed that China had more than enough people to replace any killed — Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in May 1966 to cleanse the party of capitalists, capitalist roaders, rightists, traditionalists, revisionists, bourgeois remnants, and anyone else lacking sufficient revolutionary fervor. Which, conveniently, could be summed up as anyone who doubted his leadership after he had thrown the country into chaos, forced crackpot theories on more than a fifth of mankind, caused untold death and devastation, and treated the slightest criticism as disloyalty. The ultimate objective was to again make “Mao Zedong thought,” which had already killed millions, the governing standard in the PRC….[    ]

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