Reopening the Doors
The End of an Era
Mao and Nixon shaking hands (February 29, 1972)
Yin Yang symbol with US and China flags
Dominoes with Country Names (representing the fear that if one country becomes communist, those around it will "fall" to communism as well)
The Changing Dynamics of the Cold War
During the early years of the Cultural Revolution, despite the efforts of Zhou Enlai to maintain some continuity with the past and to protect senior personnel in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from criticism and dismissal, the rhetoric of China’s foreign policy grew defiantly revolutionary. In 1965 Lin Biao had declared that just as the rural revolutionaries had surrounded and strangled China’s cities in 1948 and 1949, so now would the impoverished Third World countries surround and strangle the superpowers and the rest of the advanced capitalist nations. This statement became a basic formula for Chinese foreign policy during the Cultural Revolution, and was interpreted by many Western observers to mean that China sought to play a dominant role in creating global upheavals that might lead to a weakening of the capitalist nations. ...
Maps showing global development of communism from 1950 to 1970
But by 1970 Mao himself had grown deeply worried both by the continuous buildup of Soviet troops on China’s borders since the 1969 border clashes, and by Lin Biao’s ambitions. The idea of reopening some avenues of contact with the United States was accordingly discussed by members of the Chinese leadership, despite the ongoing revolutionary and anti-imperialist rhetoric of Jiang Qing and other leaders of the Cultural Revolution. (SMC, 565-6)
Yin Yang symbol with US and China flags
Poster of Mao Zedong with Lin Biao, who has an "X" superimposed on the original image
Lin Biao on the cover of Time magazine (September 9, 1966)[In late 1971] Mao had begun to have second thoughts about Lin, and about the way the PLA was handling the protracted purges and investigations of veteran party cadres. Mao was seeking once again to strengthen the party, feeling it had been shaken up adequately, and he and others began to suggest that in their arrests and interrogations the army had been guilty of “carelessness” and “arrogance.” ... At the apparent height of his power, in an address to the ninth party congress on April 1, 1969, Lin had told the assemble delegates that China’s former head of state Liu Shaoqi had “betrayed the Party, capitulated to the enemy and became a hidden traitor and scab.” In 1972 Premier Zhou Enlai announced that it was Lin Biao who had been the “renegade and traitor.” (SMC, 554-5)

Picture of a Trident 1E jet
The Death of Lin Biao
Top-Secret Official Explanation
September 12-13, 1971
On September 12, when Chairman Mao was making an inspection tour in the South, Lin Biao took advantage of the opportunity and attempted to blow up the train in which Chairman Mao was riding near Shanghai in order to accomplish his objective of assassinating Chairman Mao. When the plot failed and was exposed, Lin Biao hurriedly left Peking on the afternoon of September 12 and boarded a British-made Trident jet military transport, with the intention of surrendering to the enemy and betraying his own country. After crossing the national border, his plane crashed near Undur Khan in Mongolia. Lin Biao, [his wife] Ye Qun, [his son] Lin Liguo, and the pilot were all burned to death.
Map showing location of Lin Biao's plane crash
Photo of Lin Biao's plane crash
Lin Biao, by his act of surrendering to the enemy and betraying his own country, invited his own destruction. Yet his death could not redeem his crime, and his notoriety will last for ten thousand years to come. What has been most intolerable is that Lin Biao stole a huge quantity of secret documents and foreign currencies and shot and wounded one of his long-time bodyguards. Lin Biao’s sworn followers, Yu Xinye, Zhou Yuzhi and Chen Liyun took off separately in two military helicopters in an attempt to escape from the country. They were intercepted by the Air Force units of the Peking Region. Yu Xinye and Zhou Yuzhi shot the pilots to death and then committed suicide. Chen Liyun put up a fight and was seriously wounded. All the documents they had attempted to take with them aboard the two aircraft were recovered.
       Lin [Doudou], daughter of Lin Biao, placed national interest above filial piety by refusing to escape with Lin Biao, and she reported the situation to the premier in time, which led to the foiling of her father’s monstrous conspiracy. Lin [Doudou] has thus performed a great service to the Party and the state and helped the Party Central Committee smash a serious counterrevolutionary coup d’etat. (
Documentary Collection, 1st Edition, 433-4)
Icon of the People's Republic of China
The party’s response to the difficult task of maintaining its prestige can be traced through the crosscurrents of its campaign against Lin Biao. Initially, in the first months after his death, Lin Biao was not officially referred to by name, although local party leaders had been alerted to the planned campaign at special briefings. Instead the press, party journals, and radio stations began a series of attacks on unnamed people defined as “swindlers like Liu Shaoqi” or as “sham Marxist political swindlers.”
The crime of these "swindlers" was that they "wanted to use the spectre of anarchism to stir up disorder and poison the masses in order to oppose the revolution," and they "cunningly incited ultra-'left' trends of thought, wanting democracy without centralism and freedom without discipline." By early 1973, some leaders of the Cultural Revolution must have realized that such a campaign of vilification would backfire, for the charges sounded uncannily as if they applied to the behavior they had practiced themselves. Now the Chinese people were warned that the swindlers' line was revisionist, not leftist, and that those same swindlers had "at certain times and on certain issues ... put on an extreme 'Left' appearance to disguise their Right essence." One goal of these swindlers, among others, was a "counterrevolutionary desire for the restoration of the overthrown landlord and bourgeois classes."
Although everyone in China must have realized the charges referred to Lin Biao, it was not until the tenth party congress in August 1973 that Zhou Enlai said so officially and in public. But Zhou made no convincing attempt to explain exactly what Lin had done and how he had been allowed to do it, nor what historical precedents there could have been for his actions, which must surely have sounded absurd to most listeners. (SMC, 571-2)
Icon of the People's Republic of China
Cartoon images of Qin Shihuangdi, Jiang Qing, and Mao Zedong
Poster showing a crowd viewing artifacts from Qin Shihuangdi's tomb with a banner that says "Carry out the 'Criticize Lin Biao & Confucius' Struggle to the End"
Cartoon of Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai and Confucius
At almost the same time that the tenth congress was convening, a new mass campaign was launched, the ostensible target being no less a personage than Confucius himself, and the humanistic and conservative values that he represented. ... By 1974 the “anti-Lin Biao anti-Confucius” movement had spread all across China. (SMC, 572)
"Big Brother" (from the novel 1984) with the words "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength" and "Big Brother is Watching You"
The Perspective of the Masses
When Liu Shaoqi was dragged down we’d been very supportive. At that time Mao Zedong was raised very high: he was the red sun and what not. But the Lin Biao affair provided us with a major lesson. We came to see that the leaders up there could say today that something is round; tomorrow, that it’s flat. We lost faith in the system. ...
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 32)
The credulity of the Chinese people had been stretched beyond all possible boundaries as leader after leader had first been praised to the skies and then vilified. ... The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution showed that neither Mao nor the CCP seemed to know how or where the nation should be heading. (SMC, 555)
Yin Yang symbol with US and China flags
Cover of "Legion" Magazing with Mao and Nixon playing ping pong and the caption "What's Behind Ping Pong Diplomacy?"
By dint of negotiations that were initially concealed from the public, the Congress, the State Department, and even the secretary of state himself, President Nixon’s national security adviser Henry Kissinger, traveled to China in July 1971 to meet privately with Zhou Enlai and plan the details of a visit by President Nixon. ... The diplomatic substance of Nixon’s visit was hammered out in long private sessions by Chinese and American negotiators, while the president and his escorts enjoyed their visits to the Great Wall and the Ming tombs outside Peking, and endured an endless round of banquets. The central issues were how to handle the status of Taiwan and the possible effects of a changed China policy on the Soviet Union, with which an American summit meeting was already planned for May. The resulting statement, which marked a major policy shift for both countries, was issued at Shanghai, during Nixon’s visit there, on February 28, 1972. Presented in the form of a “joint communiqué,” this document summarized both the American and Chinese points of view on global politics without attempting to reconcile them. (SMC, 567-9)
Photo of Mao and Nixon engaging in talks with Zhou Enlai on the left and Henry Kissinger on the right
President Nixon met with Chairman Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China on February 21. The two leaders had a serious and frank exchange of views on Sino-U.S. Relations and world affairs.
President Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai
During the visit, extensive, earnest, and frank discussions were held between President Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai on the normalization of relations between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, as well as on other matters of interest to both sides. ... There are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. However, the two sides agreed that countries regardless of their social systems should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. International disputes should be settled on this basis, without resorting to the use of threat of force. The United States and the People’s Republic of China are prepared to apply these principles to their mutual relations. ...
Map showing the Taiwan Strait separating Mainland China from the Republic of China on Taiwan
The two sides reviewed the long-standing serious disputes between China and the United States. The Chinese side reaffirmed its position: The Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United States; the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China’s internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere; and all U.S. Forces and military installations must be withdrawn from Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of “one China, one Taiwan,” “one China, two governments,” “two Chinas,” an “independent Taiwan” or advocate that the “status of Taiwan remains to be determined.”
Map of a united China (with Taiwan and Hong Kong)
The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. Forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.
Yin Yang symbol with US and China flags
The two sides agreed that it is desirable to broaden the understanding between the two peoples. To this end, they discussed specific areas in such fields as science, technology, culture, sports, and journalism, in which people-to-people contacts and exchanges would be mutually beneficial. ... Both sides view bilateral trade as another area from which mutual benefit can be derived, and agreed that economic relations based on equality and mutual benefit are in the interest of the peoples of the two countries. (DC, 461-4)
President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon with Zhou Enlai and others at a banquet

What was in it for each side?

Who was the big loser?

Did Mao betray the revolution?

Poster of Mao drinking a bottle of Coke
Icon of the People's Republic of China
Mao "resting in state" with hysterical masses streaming past
The Old Guard Dies
& the “Gang of Four” is Tried
Death was now in the air for China’s aging revolutionary leaders. Zhou Enlai succumbed first, dying on the morning of January 8, 1976, at the age of seventy-eight. ... [O]n July 28, 1976, one of the worst earthquakes in China’s recorded history occurred, with its epicenter in Tangshan, Hebei. ...
Map showing epicenter of the Hebei Earthquake with the Chinese characters "tianming" (Mandate of Heaven" added
[I]n traditional Chinese historiography the imminence of profound political upheavals leading to dynastic collapse was usually heralded by a cataclysmic natural event such as an earthquake or flood, or by some celestial portent. Such gross superstitions, of course, were now consigned to the dustbin of history, but when Mao Zedong died of complications following his long illness, on September 9, at ten minutes after midnight, many Chinese must have linked the two events in their minds. (SMC, 580-4)
Icon of the People's Republic of China
Though it was Hua Guofeng who made the final eulogy and thus received the greatest public attention, the four radical leaders of the Cultural Revolution were also plainly visible. Wang Hongwen presided over the final ceremonies, and Zhang Chunqiao was a director of the funeral committee. Jiang Qing, accompanied by her own and Mao’s surviving children, was prominent at the funeral, and cameras also focused on Yao Wenyuan. Yet in the final startling event of an already dramatic year, all four radical leaders of the Cultural Revolution were suddenly arrested without warning by Hua Guofeng’s orders on October 6, and placed in detention at an unknown location. They were accused of having constituted a clique or “Gang of Four,” and of having persevered in their evil conduct despite stern warnings from Mao himself. ...
Photos of the so-called "Gang of Four": Jiang Qing, Yao Wenyuan, Zhang Chunqiao and Wang Hongwen
"Throw the book at them" cartoonAs more and more charges were brought against them in October and November, the phrase Gang of Four became known to everyone in China. Cumulatively they were accused of almost every possible crime in the political book, including factional attacks on Zhou Enlai, forging Mao’s statements, diluting the criticism of Lin Biao to save their own skin, organizing their own armed forces, tampering with education (and concocting the story of Zhang Tiesheng’s blank examination paper), inciting the masses to fight each other, supporting inefficient techniques by such spurious claims as “a socialist train behind schedule is better than a revisionist train on schedule,” attacking worthy government cadres, criticizing Dazhai and Daqing, disrupting industrial production, hindering the earthquake relief work, defaming Hua Guofeng, slandering army veterans, producing subversive films, criticizing worthy schoolteachers, sabotaging foreign trade, leading the young to oppose Marxism, and using the public-security apparatus for their own purposes. The members of the group that had proved so ingenious in thinking up a miasma of charges against prominent CCP leaders and intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution now found themselves on the receiving end of the same process. (The Search for Modern China, 585-6)
Cartoon of children stabbing picturs of the Gang of Four