What did Mao Zedong think about democracy?

Chinese Refugees and Communists on Trial: The aftermath of the Cultural Revolution


On May 16, 1966, the Cultural Revolution officially began in the People's Republic of China. The terror of this era left surprisingly few traces in German law - for example in two cases on religious self-understanding.

When Helmut Schmidt (1918–2015) was once again asked a few years before his death to explain to German newspaper readers how he should imagine the People's Republic of China, the former Federal Chancellor practiced a pose that seemed modest at first.

When asked, for example, about the Tian'anmen massacre - on June 3 and 4, 1989, the People's Liberation Army protested by

Students: inside, free-thinking trade unionists and ordinary citizens: dejected inside the center of Beijing - Schmidt explained that it was an event "that the West did not even begin to understand".

Schmidt, on the other hand, of course had the perspective. Alongside Ludwig Erhard *, he was the only Federal Chancellor with military experience to date - due to the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–), as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, visited the comrades of the Chinese Brotherhood who had lost "face". Because they were forced to receive their distinguished guest "through the back door" while the people were demonstrating for democratic rights outside (WZ, April 13, 2008).

Traumas of Mao's rule

Sociologically and biographically at least as much, if not more plausible, seems another interpretation: Many members of the Chinese leadership still had experiences with civil war-like conditions in their bones, which began on May 16, 1966 as the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution".

On that day, the Politburo of the Communist Party of China adopted the "May 16 Message", invoking general paranoia of "bourgeois elements" in its own ranks and fear of liberal overturning plans.

This was preceded by the economically and ecologically catastrophic "Great Leap Forward" - the utopian attempt to build up the coal and steel industry by all means and at the same time to modernize agriculture. The number of starvation deaths as a result of this policy between 1958 and 1961 is estimated at 15 to 45 million people.

In the somewhat more moderate state practice that followed, Mao Zedong (1893–1976) again saw the danger of a bureaucratic solidification of communist rule. His circle initially set young and adolescent supporters in motion against "reactionary academic authorities" and other people with suspicious "class backgrounds". This was followed by their deportation to the deeply agricultural country, the destruction of cultural assets, the mistreatment and killing of "class enemies", humiliating rituals of "public self-criticism" to which parts of the state's functional elites were also exposed.

This civil war-like violence emanated from schoolchildren and students: typical youthful stubbornness of old age supplemented by the state declaration to engage in the fight for good and against evil - when did anything clever ever come out of it?

There is some evidence that the nomenklatura of the People's Republic feared renewed youthful exuberance in 1989. The countless veteran Communists humiliated during the Cultural Revolution included, for example, Xi Zhongxun (1913–2002), the father of today's "outstanding leader" Xi Jinping (1953–).

Sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, became Christians

Despite the numerous victims of one-party rule in the People's Republic of China, many of whom are academically educated and mobile around the world, the German judiciary dealt with remarkably few cases in this context.

More recently, for example, the Freiburg Administrative Court (VG) had to deal with the life story of a Chinese couple whose suffering began with the "Cultural Revolution".

The plaintiffs, born in 1949 and 1950 and nationals of the People's Republic of China, were sent to work in the village as part of the 1968 Cultural Revolution. In 1980 their son was born as their only child. Working in the shop of the collectivized village until 1987, they were then able to set up their own business, but were systematically attacked by the mayor as "newly rich immigrants", were forced to provide goods and money and stayed in the village as "foreigners".

The parents' opposition to the mayor cost their 20-year-old son his life. He was seriously injured by hired Mafia thugs and died after six months of suffering. The attempt to bring charges against the mayor after the state had not provided protection came to nothing.

According to the court, the couple submitted credibly that they "subsequently could not get over the unpunished death of their only child and required pastoral care. Since they had been atheists up until then, a friend / colleague of the plaintiff had the Bible for them in 2010 presented."

The gatherings for reading the Bible together were repeatedly disrupted by the police, and the - prospective - Christians were briefly arrested.

While the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees focused on the individual behavior of the mayor and referred to the millions of Christians who can practice today largely undisturbed in the People's Republic, the VG Freiburg dealt with the threatened situation of the state-not curated "Christian house churches" apart and obliged the Federal Office to grant the spouses refugee status (judgment of October 17, 2019, Az. A 9 K 4768/17).

Marxism-Leninism and Maoism as a fashionable worldview in Germany

Much more often than with people who were harmed by the atheist system of rule that Mao Zedong established in 1949, German courts were confronted with those involved in the proceedings who wanted to gain something positive from the teachings of the communist politician.

In this country, conservative to right-wing terrorist circles are often very familiar with Mao as the theoretician of partisan warfare. Karl-Heinz Hoffmann (1937–) referred to the example of Maos in the process that led to the ban of the "military sports group" named after him, who in his struggle to "take power" in the dimension of decades and beyond his lifetime I thought (BVerwG, judgment of 02.12.1980, Az. 1 A 3.80).

Members of once left-wing extremist circles, on the other hand, were able to make friends with Mao in a way that could later be dismissed as a biographical confusion - usually without intellectual, public effort.

The former SPD Federal Health Minister Ulla Schmidt (1949–) or the Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg Winfried Kretschmann (1948–) belonged to the Maoist Communist League of West Germany, a delegation under Hans-Gerhard Schmierer (1942–) even traveled to Cambodia in 1978 the reign of terror of the brother party of the "Khmer Rouge".

One case from the Ruhr area is to be singled out from the many problems of service and labor law that the mostly academically educated German ex-communists encountered - it goes well with the cause of the Chinese refugees in Freiburg.

On April 1, 1984, a 28-year-old state-certified educator was employed to work with 6- to 16-year-olds in a Catholic children's home in Gelsenkirchen-Horst. After he ran for the "Communist Workers' Union of Germany" in the NRW local elections in 1984, the parish terminated his employment relationship.

In the dismissal protection proceedings, the communist educator alleged that the Catholic community disregarded the party privilege, Article 21 of the Basic Law, and could not rely on the tendency protection of their company because it was financed exclusively from public funds. His candidacy is not in conflict with Christian doctrine, because "Marxism / Leninism merely rejects the religious dogma of the existence of a divine power as the creator and ruler of the destiny of humanity. On the other hand, Marxism / Leninism advocates complete freedom of religion, including freedom of worship. "

Christian charity vs. dictatorship of the proletariat

The defendant community stated that ideologically the struggle for "the proletarian cultural revolution" and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is not compatible with the operational "task of Christian charity".

A nice detail: the communist plaintiff stated that the parish could not rely on the fact that he was an avowed atheist, because he had disclosed this in the interview.

The pastor present at this conversation remembered the proceedings differently: from the fact that the new educator had left the church, he rather wanted to infer that he was a "seeker" on the way back to the right faith.

The Hamm Regional Labor Court followed the request of the defendant church, which also allowed it in companies outside of its core tasks to demand that employees work in accordance with the church's self-image. The applicant should not have withheld his party affiliation - for since July 1, 1949 by the Holy Office, since 1983 by can. 1374 Codex Iuris Canonici (CIC) regulated membership in a communist party for Catholics with the ban on church (LAG Hamm, judgment of November 26, 1985, Az. 7 Sa 1571/85).

So the terror, including the "Cultural Revolution", was not remembered everywhere as an exercise by exotic Chinese, for whom advocating in Germany was somehow harmless in terms of popular culture and youthfully innocent

* Correction May 17, 2021: Ludwig Erhard was a soldier in the First World War and suffered severe injuries (the author had the Second World War in mind).