Modern Chinese scholars often claim to represent the Chinese people as a whole, but they really don’t. How the Chinese view the Mao era is often, but not always, dependent on the individual’s class. The Chinese scholars, being the elite, naturally view it pretty negatively.
Mao and his comrades in the CCP are often accused of violence against people who disagreed with them. However, there was no official policy for violence. In 1966, the CCP approved a decree for the whole of China. It said that no school, mine, factory, administration, or any other unit could set up a makeshift court to persecute anyone. The official policy was “engaged in struggle with words, not with physical attacks”. This was recorded in an official Cultural Revolution document called “The 16 Articles”. Mao is often accused of creating the Red Guards. There were Red Guards, but no such singular group called the Red Guards.
It’s also claimed that official policy was to destroy traditional objects. Despite efforts by post-Mao Chinese authorities to denounce the Cultural Revolution, no evidence has been put forward to prove that physical destruction was officially sanctioned. The official policy was to protect cultural relics from destruction. In 1967, the CCP central committee issued a document called “Several Suggestions for the Protection of Cultural”. The number of archaeological discoveries were effective. Mao also promoted the use of traditional Chinese medicine. It should also be pointed out that tension between conservation and destruction of traditions has existed in China for thousands of years.
it is often said that Chinese Red Guards were responsible for the destruction of Tibet. However, only a limited number of ethnic Chinese Red Guards reached Tibet. Most of the destruction was done by rebels of Tibetan ethnic origin. Tibetan authorities often used the PLA to restrain such radical actions.
Many lower-class Tibetans responded to Mao in a positive way because he changed their lives with a revolutionary land reform and emancipation of slaves. They liked Mao because he respected the Dalai Lama, and had good political relations with him from 1950-59.
China is often accused of imperialism for taking control of Tibet, but we must differentiate between, for example, British Imperialism in India and Chinese “Imperialism” in Tibet. First of all, there were areas of Tibet that were already part of Chinese provinces before the communist takeover. Many Tibetans and Chinese lived in those areas for a long time. No major state recognized Tibet as independent during that time either. The Tibetan population has grown since it became part of China. Whether or not Tibet should be independent now, in the 21st century, is a whole other story.
Under Mao, inflation was brought under control, the currency stabilized, and there was redistribution of large estates. Between 1950-60 the number of teachers in China rose from half a million to 2 and a half million. The number of elementary school pupils rose to 100 million. The first 8 years of Mao saw more industrial output, development of roads, and development of railroads.
China’s economy was disrupted in 1967-8, but through the rest of the 1960’s and 70’s, it grew consistently. It had positive growth in agriculture and industry. The Cultural Revolution period had a rapid growth of rural industry. The US government acknowledged this in 1978. The average life expectancy for the Chinese rose from 35 years in 1949 to 63 in 1975. Mao set up the barefoot doctors, and set up better healthcare for the rural Chinese.
There was a lot of official, semi-official, and underground activity during those years. More than 10,000 different newspapers and pamphlets were published during the Cultural Revolution. Mao even read some of these publications. However, Western academics always use so called “Red Guard” publications to access the Cultural Revolution.
During the Cultural Revolution years of 1972 to 75, China had 4 national fine arts exhibitions with over 2,000 works selected from over 12,000 works of art recommended from all over China. The exhibits attracted 7.8 million people. Such a large audience was not seen before the Cultural Revolution. The number of cinemas, cultural clubs, public libraries, and museums increased between the years of 1965 and 1976.
During the GLF, the idea of backyard furnaces was proposed. Mao was skeptical of them. They weren’t Mao’s idea, but rather Bo Yibo and Liu Shaoqi’s idea. It was Mo who said that CHina could catch up to the UK in two years. Mao didn’t say any of that and was always skeptical. He always wanted them to be cautious. Mao told the media to tone down publicity about unrealistic production targets. Deng Xiaoping said himself and other leaders were to blame for the GLF disasters, and Mao wasn’t entirely at fault. Deng was in charge of implementing the GLF policies and worked as a middle man between Mao and the local leaders who put the policies into practice. Deng and others are mainly at fault for the GLF disasters, not Mao.
I recommend you read ‘The Battle for China’s Past” by Mobo Gao!