December 2015

When the night has come and the land is dark:
Will the police stand by Mao’s revolution?


(click on the title to view the document)


In 2016, it will be exactly fifty years since the CCP Center launched the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The launch phase of the movement was particularly turbulent and to this day many of its aspects remain poorly understood at best. Take, for example, the involvement of China’s public security sector: what and how much do historians really know for certain about how it began? The present Document of the Month from the summer of 1966 emanates from the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing and calls on police officers all over China to stand by, be loyal to, and support the Cultural Revolution mass movement. When it was first circulated, on 10 June, the classified document’s thrust appears more than anything else to have confounded those who were meant to implement it where the power of the state met society and the individual. On 17 June, the Ministry of Public Security had to hurriedly follow it up with a set of “Replies to Queries Prompted,” expanding on part of its contents.

On 28 July, the full text of the original notification asking officers to defend the Cultural Revolution was reprinted, its original wording unchanged, in Public Security Construction. Again, its impact seems not to have been what its author(s) had hoped for. On 9 August (the day the People’s Daily published the CCP Central Committee’s “Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”) it was again reprinted, now accompanied by a specially written Ministry of Public Security preamble, in People’s Public Security (no. 9, 1966), a journal directly targeting the police rank and file. The ministry preamble provides some intriguing historical context:

Our ministry’s notification “On Defending the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Movement” was issued to urban public security bureau branches and to rural bureaus of public security already on 10 June [1966] and was carried in Public Security Construction on 28 July [1966]. As far as the localities everywhere were concerned, some of them implemented the notification, while others did not. In a few rare instances, localities even went so far as to dispatch armed police to interfere with or suppress the revolutionary activities of the student masses. This constituted an illegal, criminal act that is absolutely impermissible. We now again carry this notification on the pages of People’s Public Security in the hope that all public security cadres and people’s police conscientiously study and grasp the spirit of the notification, and act on it in earnest. Problems encountered in the course of its implementation are to be reported to, and instructions are to be requested from, Party committees without delay.

And yet, implementation by the “localities everywhere” continued to encounter resistance. Not until Mao’s leadership on 22 August had explicitly endorsed it (in Zhongfa [1966] 410, entitled “Center Agrees with Ministry of Public Security Regulations that Strictly Forbid Using the Police to Suppress the Revolutionary Student Movement”) did officers finally fall in line and “grasp the spirit of the notification, and act on it in earnest.”

My Document of the Month source is the first-tier reprint on the pages of Public Security Construction. I have been unable to locate a copy of the original issued on 10 June 1966.