A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.
Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.
One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.
The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.
If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.