The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) brought Rae Yang and her peers more freedom and authority than they had had before

The Cultural Revolution was a movement that took place between 1966 and 1976. It was an initiative of chair Mao. The aim was to preserve and make the people aware of the communist ideology, which entailed opposing capitalism and the bourgeois culture. Those who had a different opinion and those who believed in other ideologies were considered enemies of the party and they were punished and shamed. The movement was a form of struggle against class. Many people had to change their ways. They had to change their careers and businesses. Others quit school as most of their time was preoccupied with the revolution. This was the case for Rae Yang and most of her peers. They took the chairman’s words to heart when he told them to oppose authority. The Cultural Revolution was a time of great freedom for Rae Young and her peers and it gave them considerable authority to make decisions about their lives and to influence the decisions that other people made.

The revolution gave people freedom they had never anticipated. Most of this people were school going children who were always under authority. Therefore, the students were overjoyed when Chairman Mao told the people that they could rebel against the authorities.[1] The immediate authorities for the students were the teachers. The students saw the decree as a chance to enact their revenge against the teachers who had harmed them in some way or caused them discomfort. Yang and her peers saw this period as a time of free expression. They were free to express their thoughts and words. For the first time in their lives, they could criticize the figures of authorities in their lives and they did not hesitate to do so. The students had taken Mao’s words to heart and they used them to justify their actions.

Yang and the other students took advantage of the situation during the revolution to express their anger and dissatisfaction. The first thing that Yang did was to criticize her Chinese teacher, Lin. She accused her of high-handedness, lacking proletarian feelings towards her students and suppressing those who had different perspectives from hers. Yang told her teacher that she treated her students as enemies. The other students supported her views and they signed the criticism note. They then took the note they had written and posted it in their teacher’s bedroom wall.[2] Teacher Lin was not the only teacher who faced the students’ backlash. Some of the teachers faced worse situation. At one time, students threw rocks at a teacher and injured him badly. Other students felt that the art teacher had been offensive and they beat him to death. The revolution changed the students’ perspectives regarding their teachers and the respect and fear that they once had vanished.

The students exercised their newfound freedom in other ways as well. They developed schedules that were more flexible. The teachers did not have any authority in the first years of the revolution. Therefore, they could not influence the decisions that the students made. The students did not have to follow the directions of those who had had direct authority over them in the past including their parents and teachers. Chairman Mao had spoken and that was what mattered most to the students. They cancelled most of their lessons and entrance exams. Students organized meetings to discuss their family histories instead of attending routine classes.

The Cultural Revolution gave Yang and her peers a level of authority they had never imagined they would have. This gave them substantial power, especially after they started working as a group under the Red Guards. They exercised their authority and they displayed their power wherever they went. They changed the villages, towns, and cities during the revolution. They believed that they had to make other people aware of the Mao’s message and the message of the revolution. The revolution ignited new blood in Yang and her comrades. They felt empowered enough to change their school and their city. They were determined to change and transform everything about their old society. Their main intention was to change the old culture, old habits, old ideas, and old customs.[3] They took this mission all over the country

The formation of the Red Guards gave Yang and her peers the power of numbers and this increased their influence. The fact that they were from Beijing helped them to pass the message of the revolution. Many people in the rural areas and the provinces believed the Red Guards and heeded their words. The villagers admired them and many of them supported their mission. Outside the schools, the red guards began by initiating some changes in nearby restaurants. The changes were meant to discourage wastage of food in the midst of poverty and discourage people from adopting the bourgeois culture. The new changes required people to finish all the food they had ordered, serve themselves, and clean their dishes afterwards. Other groups of the Red Guards raided people’s homes. They took items such as guns and bullets, pornographic materials, gold and foreign currencies, and old deeds. Theses things were considered bourgeois stuff and the red guards were opposed to capitalism.

The Cultural Revolution made it possible for the red guards to travel all over the country free of charge. The guards felt that they had a responsibility to raise awareness and to inform people about the revolution. They had trains and buses at their disposal and they could go wherever they decided. They extended the authority they had to the traveling passengers. They chased the capitalists and those who were against the revolution from the trains. They beat some of them irrespective of their age or gender. The red guards felt they had so much power that they took it upon themselves to change the business environment in an entire province.[4] They were opposed to private ownership of businesses, since this was one way of advancing capitalism. Their actions initiated fear wherever they went. This forced party leaders and government officials in different towns and cities to meet with them. The guards caused so much fear among the adults despite the fact that they were only teenagers.

The red guards had so much power that few people questioned or opposed their actions. Most of the guards did not differentiate between family and foe when spreading the message of the revolution. They did not take pity on those they felt were opposed to the revolution. [5]Moreover, they failed to understand the revolution message in its entirety. They considered pets, flowers, and gardens to be a symbol of the bourgeois culture, of which they were opposed to since it represented capitalism. Yang and her comrades were not exempt from this. Her brother watched as other young red guards killed his pet cat mercilessly by banging it against a rock. It was a painful experience but she could not do anything about it. They even opposed the idea of families who had nannies. This was a big blow to Yang, since her nanny had been like a second mother to her. However, because of the revolution, she had to leave the family. Many families faced this situation. Some of those who supported the revolution and its cause had to make many sacrifices.

Yang and most of her peers did not always use the authority they had negatively. They had read Mao’s messages and they believed in his teachings and his counsel. They made the decision to volunteer in the countryside despite the fact that most of them were from the city. They abandoned their comfortable city homes and they lived the life of peasants. The fact that many of the guards did not bother to consult with their parents showed that they still had a lot of power. Yang and her peers were still teenagers when they decided to work under hard and difficult conditions in the countryside. However, the revolution had helped to change their minds concerning parental advice and leadership. They felt free and empowered to decide the course of their destinies.

Yang and her peers realized more freedom during the first few years of the Cultural Revolution than they ever had in their lives. They were free to cancel their classes, travel wherever they wanted, and associate with whomever they wanted. They did not observe any class and the gender differences were limited. They exercised a lot of authority and power during the revolution. Their zeal scared the adults and motivated others to join them. Children admired them greatly. Yang and her peers did not seem to be afraid of anything during this time. The revolution was a great period for Yang and her friends, as it caused them to mature fast and they were able to make life-changing decisions.



Yang, Rae. Spider Eaters: A Memoir. Fifteenth Anniversary Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

[1] Rae Yang, Spider Eaters: A Memoir, fifteenth anniversary edition (Berkley: University of California Press, 2013), 115

[2] Yang, Spider Eaters, 117

[3] Yang, Spider Eaters, 123

[4] Yang, Spider Eaters, 140

[5] Yang, Spider Eaters, 154

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