After launching the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards were incouraged to carry a liitle red book of Mao's quotations (May 1966). Actually the term "Little Red Book" was never used in China, but was a term that became popular in the West to describe it. The book was an abridged collection of quotations from Mao's witings and speeches. Mao's selected works were published in four volumes. Most of the quotations in the little red book come from about 25 documents in these volumes. The quotations range in length from a sentence to a few short paragraphs, and borrow heavily from a group of about two dozen documents in the four volumes of Mao's Selected Works.
The quotations are generally short, sometimes only 1-2 sentences. A few are two paragraphs. It beca,e rquired reading and many Red Guards committed the passages to memory. It was printed in a small pocket addition to make it wasy for the students to carry it. No one knows precisely how many copies were printed, but most believe ell over one billion copies, making it one of the mostly widely printed books in history.
Soon it was not just Red Guards carrying the book, but every Chinese person including primary children. Individuals who could not produce one could be beaten by Red Guards or sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The book was discussed not only in schools, but in the work place as well. The Chinese were incouraged to solve problems with these quotations. Schools, industrial plants, agricultural communes, government offices, and military units set up study groups to read and discuss the quotations. Thus instead of studying or working, the Chinese devoted countless hours to study Mao's quotations. It was argued that a better understanding of Mao would bring about a degree of enlightenment that would result in great improvements in production. The Red Guards used the quotations to identify and weed out intellectuals no sufficently committed to Mao. The 427 quotations are organized thematically into 33 chapters. The chapters were titled: 1. The Chinese Communist Party, 2. Classes and Class Struggle, 3. Socialism and Communism, 4. The Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, 5. War and Peace, 6. Imperialism and All Reactionaries Are Paper Tigers. ect. Chinese propagada at the time either consisted of Mao's images or his devoted followers brandishing the little red book. Gradually the importance of the book declined, eespecially after the rise of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The Party came to the view that the glorification of Mao's quotations was a left deviation and a an example of the cult of personality. The book was nevera recalled and today in China is generally seen as memorabilia with a meaning that depends on ones experiences during the Cultural Revolution.
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