Loyal parent: an analysis of the role played by Zhou Enlai in China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1969)

Sumner Lemon


In examining the political role of Zhou Enlai during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), one is immediately confronted by the contradiction between Zhou's efforts to moderate the Cultural Revolution and his clear role as a key element to the successful implementation of Cultural Revolution policies. One must consider the political actions of Zhou Enlai during the Cultural Revolution as a constantly evolving response to the levels and intensity of ultra-Ieftist attacks on the existing superstructure in relation to Zhou's political strength relative to the ultra-left. In doing so, it is possible to understand why Zhou Enlai appears to want to restrain the Cultural Revolution at some points while working to expand and broaden the Cultural Revolution at others. Ultimately, both actions are defensive reactions on the part of Zhou Enlai to the activities of the ultra-left. During periods when Zhou's political strength was relatively strong in comparison to the ultra-left, Zhou promoted moderation of the policies of the Cultural Revolution as a means of reducing the political momentum of the ultra-left. Conversely, when Zhou's political position was relatively weak in comparison to the ultra-left, Zhou seems to have supported the radicalization of the Cultural Revolution in order to keep himself from being ousted from power.