Emergence of Heterodox Voices—The “August 5 Theory”


It is against this background that the “August 5” activists developed ideas which diverged from the guidelines that the authorities were promoting. The changing policies in Guangzhou compelled the young participants to think through issues on their own and to come up with their own standpoints. From the military’s self-criticism to the alliance with the PLA-supported East Wind faction, some Flag faction members began to question the policies issued by the CCP Central Committee.

Their distrust of political leaders, developed through more than a year of participation in the tumultuous mass movement, taught them how to deal with the situation with caution. Based on the new direction of the Cultural Revolution set by the central leadership, the Preparatory Provincial Revolutionary Committee of Guangdong led by General Huang Yongsheng was established on November 12, 1967.17 The Flag faction leaders dutifully shifted their focus to accommodate the moderate policies being pursued by the Beijing leadership.

The emphasis on unity, however, caused concerns and confusion within the Flag faction. Many Flag faction members cast doubts on the military. A significant number of the rebels questioned both the central leadership and their own leaders in Guangzhou. As the politics of moderation continued throughout autumn and winter, these Flag faction members, in effect the “radical rebels” in the Cultural Revolution, began to take the initial steps toward formulating a heterodox analysis of Chinese society, arriving at an explanation of the successes and failures of the Cultural Revolution to date that was far removed from official accounts.18

The Foshan Conference

In order to ease the doubts and unify the Flag faction, a conference was held in the city of Foshan attended by most of its major units. The meeting, held from December 12 to December 19, was called to sum up the situation as the Flag faction leaders viewed it by that time, and to arrive at a unified policy for the future.

The main points of the conference were the self-criticism of the previous attitudes towards the PLA and advocacy of the alliance with the East Wind faction. The Flag leaders expressed their support for Huang Yongsheng as well as the newly established Provincial Revolutionary Preparatory Small Group. The meeting issued a statement entitled “Minutes of the Foshan Conference,” claiming that “the general situation has already become fixed and power has been grasped” (daju yiding, daquan zaiwo) as well as reaffirming Flag faction’s support for the policy of consolidation.19

Rather than developing a unified policy for the Flag faction, however, the Foshan meeting only worsened the split within the group. The “Minutes of the Foshan Conference” immediately suffered resistance and accusations. The conference was severely denounced through big-character posters put forward by the groups which charged that the conference “completely denied the two line struggles and blamed all the responsibilities to factionalism.”20

In place of the slogan “the general situation has already become fixed and power has been grasped,” they substituted “the general situation is still undecided and power is still in dispute” (daju weiding, daquan zaizheng).21

The theme of unity was echoed in a speech by Huang Yongsheng, the head of the Preparatory Provincial Revolutionary Committee. On December 12, the committee held a meeting at Zhongshan Memorial Hall attended by the representatives from both the conservative and rebel factions. At the meeting, Huang delivered an important speech in which he stated:

Some organizations and some people have a debate of principle on the question of who should be the core of the alliance. … It is incorrect to
appoint any of our organizations to be the core. … [It is] necessary to eagerly and patiently help those comrades who had been influenced by “ultra-left” ideas.

Recently, the atmosphere in Guangzhou has become tense and factionalism is serious. Some people do not act according to Chairman Mao’s instructions and yet they accuse other organizations of being “Right” and “conservative” and hinder them by all possible means.22

In his speech, Huang pointed out that the most important thing at the moment was to end armed conflicts and obtain unity. He also urged the return of all those still in Guangzhou on chuanlian missions to their own provinces. In particular, he singled out Xiang River Storm (xiang jiang feng lei) from Hunan province. Composed largely of dissatisfied students, white-collar personnel, and workers, the organization spawned the development
of Shengwulian, which would become nationally famous through the writings of Yang Xiguang as the best-known “ultra-left” groups in China.23

Voices from the Opposition

The Foshan conference and Huang’s speech were immediately criticized by some of the rebels. Slogans such as Huang Yongsheng’s report “aimed at breaking up the rebels” and “was a huge poisonous weed” were posted all over Guangzhou’s streets. The oppositions reflected the conflict between the Flag’s militant and moderate wings.

The widely adopted “reformism” (gailiang zhuyi) within the Flag faction generated a force of resistance from the “ultra-left” members who advocated the theory of “a thorough revolution” (chedi geming).24 One of the most influential radical groups was the August 5 Commune (ba wu gongshe). The group published a newspaper named August 5. Along with Red Guard publications such as August 1 Combat Bulletin, Commentary on the Cultural Revolution, and October Torchlight, the writings from these “ultra-left” groups were often called “August 5 Theory.”

The “August 5” activists began their discussions on the current political situations soon after the Preparatory Provincial Revolutionary Committee was established. First, the “August 5” activists began to question the optimistic views promulgated within the Red Flag faction. On the crucial issue of power, they argued that the great alliance did not guarantee that the power was in the hands of the rebels:

Some of the heads said that “the power is now in our hand” and “the founding of the Guangdong Provincial Preparatory Group for the Revolutionary Committee has announced the complete collapse of the black headquarters of Tao and Zhao and announced that the proletarian headquarters has held firmly the political power in Guangdong.” First of all, let us see whether or not the power is in our hand! The Provincial Preparatory Group is trusted by the Central Committee, and of that there should be no doubt.

However, it is still a preparatory group. What is there to prepare? To prepare two responsible teams, is it enough to rely on only two responsible comrades of the Central-South Bureau and five from the military region? Exceedingly few of the provincial and municipal leading cadres have been outstanding, and none of the principal leaders’ character can be confirmed! Furthermore, power cannot be an empty framework. It should include the power of all districts and units at the basic levels and all the departments. This power should be seized from the bottom up. It is impossible for the Provincial Preparatory Group to give power to them one by one from the top down. Is power now entirely in the hands of proletarian revolutionaries in all units? You may count the great number of factories from the People’s Brigade onward. Can you point out any one of them “holding power in it hand?!”25

The Red Headquarters Call-to-Arms Combat Group (hong si nahan) led by Li Zhengtian, a leading member of the later Li Yizhe group, was one of these organizations that also advocated the attacks on this optimist view. In the article “Ten Differences—Criticism of the Current Reformism in Guangzhou,” the group asserted, “the belief that ‘we hold the power’ is the opium that poisons our fighting spirit; we must criticize it.” The article also pointed out that some Flag faction leaders “betrayed the revolutionary principles for their immediate interests.”26

The “August 5” activists turned harsh criticism against the “Minutes of the Foshan Conference” and Huang Yongsheng’s speech. They pointed out that with the rising power of the conservatives, the so-called “level off mountain strongholds” (chanping shantou) and “unconditional great alliance” (wu tiaojian dalianhe) was, in fact, a counterattack used by the conservatives through a seemingly peaceful method against the rebels. They warned that suppression and bribery were the new strategies adopted by the conservatives. In addition to criticism on political issues, the “August 5” activists also addressed social problems.

Some activists attempted to re-define class in ways based on the traditional Marxist concept of ownership. They proclaimed, “We should re-divide the class at this moment!” They believed that current contradictions were between those who had climbed up to the throne of power and those rusticated youth, contract workers and temporary workers who lived under the worst social conditions and suffered the most.27

Two of the most representative works among these critics were Yu Hong’s “Stillness before A Fierce Battle” and an anonymous article “Guangzhou Must Undergo More Turmoil.” Both articles warned that the rebels who advocated the great alliance were being too optimistic, and urged the rebels to continue to fight for themselves.

“Stillness Before A Fierce Combat”

In February 1968, August 5 published its most representative article entitled “Stillness before a Fierce Combat—A Comment on Problems Concerning Guangzhou’s Current Political Situation.” The article urged the rebels who embraced optimistic views for the great alliance to abandon their over-confidence and to analyze the situation with caution. The author was Yu Hong, a student at Guangzhou Labour University. Also known by his birth name Deng Yanrong, Yu Hong was born to a “black five categories” family.28

Despite the excellence in high school study, upon graduation he was assigned to Guangzhou Labour University, a school held in relative low reputation in the region. From June 1966 to March 1967, Yu Hong participated in the closure of Guangzhou Red Guard News, the “power seizure” as well as other political events, and had earned his reputation as a rebel leader due to his political vision and organizational capability. In April 1967, Yu Hong and some like-minded activists founded the first Marxism–Leninism Study Group in Guangdong.29

During the group’s first meeting, Yu Hong pointed out the importance and urgency to establish a party based on the principles of a genuine Marxism-Leninism. The fruit of the meeting was a programmatic document entitled “The Manifesto of the Marxism-Leninism Group.” Unlike most of their contemporaries, whose accusations of the Party leaders saw a strong influence of Maoism, the authors of the Manifesto not only challenged the leadership of the CCP but reportedly also questioned the authority of Mao.30 In the introduction, they pointed out that the CCP could not be counted as a proletarian political party either in terms of its structure or what it had done to the people.

The CCP had implemented the feudal one-party dictatorship from the very beginning, forming a massive bureaucracy to suppress the demand for democracy.The leader in the throne of this massive bureaucracy was Mao who, like an emperor, held the power of final judgment. They also suggested that in order to achieve proletarian democracy and socialism, it must undergo political revolutions to overthrow the rule of the “fascistic-feudalistic party of the CCP.”

They divided the path to takeover the rule of the CCP into three stages: the first stage was the ongoing Cultural Revolution that weakened the rule of the bureaucratic class, forcing the privileged to make concessions to the people; the second stage should further weaken the bureaucratic class and defeat its leadership; the third stage should overthrow the bureaucratic class and establish a new society.

The document was only circulated within the very small group, and this perhaps saved Yu Hong from political troubles. In later May, Yu Hong and other two group members went secretly on a chuanlian mission in Hunan to meet with the group founded by Yang Xiguang, later a key member of the Shengwulian and a renowned author due to his article “Whither China?” After coming back from Hunan, Yu Hong established several organizations,
among them, the August 5 Commune became the most militant Red Guard organization in Guangzhou.

In late January 1968, Hunan’s Shengwulian group was denounced by the leaders of the CCP as a counter-revolutionary organization because it advocated the complete eradication of the privileged stratum and the state apparatus. It was labeled as “ultra-left,” and deemed dangerous. Its members were arrested and the theories articulated in articles such as “Whither China?” were denounced.

In spite of foreseeing dangers, on February 14, Yu Hong republished “Whither China?” on the first page of the August 5 without a word of denunciation. In order to invite discussions, he also published the criticism of the Shengwulian by Kang Sheng, a top party leader, as well as republished another article “Warning for Guangdong’s Shengwulian—From the Fall of Hunan’s Shengwulian” by Jin Hou, a Red Flag member.

Yu Hong soon published an article “Stillness before a Fierce Combat,” challenging the optimistic views reflected in the Foshan conference towards the future of the Red Flag faction. Yu Hong depicted the dangers that the rebels were facing. As he claimed, “In such an intense volume of the sounds from gongs and drums, it is not difficult to sense, on both sides of the Pearl River, an atmosphere of political silence prevailed before a surge of fierce fighting.”31

The author warned of the dangers to forge the alliance with the conservatives and the military and reminded that the enemy was applying a strategy of “bribery and repression” to deal with the rebels. Further, Yu Hong argued that charges such as “damaging great alliance,” “disrupting the Chairman’s strategic plan,” “adverse current,” “ultra-leftist,” and “Guangdong’s Shengwulian” intimidated many rebels. The number of “bystanders” or “wanderers” (xiaoyao pai), who were deterred by these charges, increased sharply, and people became politically apathetic. The rebels’ current situation was that the revolution was not yet successful but the fighting spirit had already fallen apart.

He warned: “An invisible political pressure has taken away the rebels’ right to fight against the reactionary line. The rebels are on the way of losing their power, and they are on the verge of political and organizational collapse.”32 “If we don’t fight back because we are afraid of being labeled as ‘ultra-leftists,’” Yu Hong warned again, “the rebels, in the end, will have to pay the price and will be thrown into jail as ‘ultra-leftists.’”33 Yu Hong’s warning, however, was not accepted by most of his comrades from the Flag faction, and his article was denounced as “pessimism.”

“Guangzhou Must Undergo More Turmoil”

“Guangzhou Must Undergo More Turmoil—Where Guangzhou’s Movement Is Going,” an anonymous article appearing in the August 1 Combat Bulletin in January
1968, was another representative work that echoed the ideas of the “August 5” activists. The author was rumored to be Wu Youheng, a writer and former municipal official who had been denounced as a “rightist” in the late 1950s. The article discussed many important issues. The author reminded the rebels, many of whom were hoping to attain a united leadership through the great alliance, that the time for this was still premature. The
article advocated the continuation of the kind of turmoil that prevailed in Guangzhou during “January Power Seizure” in early 1967, and called for the expansion of mass mobilization.

The author pointed out that the turmoil fomented in the past was not enough, as the conservatives were still quite strong.34 In many work units, the power that was once seized by the rebels was recaptured by the conservatives during the “March Black Wind.” He thus stated, “The actual situation which prevails at present is that the rebels are not holding any power at all … [and] to alter this situation it is necessary to foment as much chaos as possible.” 35

The turmoil or “chaos” that the article advocated referred to an earlier period, a time when the rebels were under much less restraints in their political activities:

At the time the rebels were exuberant while the sworn partners of Tao and Zhao and the capitalist roaders were so panic-stricken that their entire front was on the verge of virtual collapse. At the time people debated in the street as to who was revolutionary and who was conservative, work units competed with one another in the seizure of power, the masses were never so conscious as they were then while the situation progressed at an accelerated pace.36

To foster such “chaos,” the author claimed, it would be necessary to mobilize the wider public, particularly the vast numbers of workers and cadres, and to continue or expand the mass movement.37 All revolutionary organizations should promote mass criticism and repudiation, mass debates, the great alliance and extensive democracy. And, the general populace should be consulted as much as possible.

The article targeted those individuals within the rebel organizations who were willing to capitulate to the pressure from above, as they were afraid of being accused of opposing the great alliance and harboring factionalism. The author believed it was their action that resulted in “widespread disillusionment, in the paralysis of organizations, in internal rifts and in the weakening of the fighting power, letting slip opportunities to
expand organizations and step up activities.”38

The great alliance in its present form, from the author’s point of view, was, in the main, an alliance in name only. As a matter of fact, the present alliance between the two factions was far from playing the part of unified leadership but was merely a union for consultative and liaison purposes. The key to achieving the role of unified leadership was that the rebel organizations win superiority. As the author pointed out:

… the final victory of the great cultural revolution movement shall be determined by the relative strength between the revolutionary forces and the conservative forces. In other words, it will be determined by the expansion and growth of the mass organizations comprising the revolutionary rebels and the weakening and disintegration of the conservative forces. This is an extremely important factor which by no means should be overlooked.39

The author’s call for the continuation of the “turmoil” and the expansion of mass mobilization deviated from the policies of consolidation and moderation that the Beijing leadership was implementing. Although the author foresaw the dangers of a premature alliance and offered suggestions, his ideas, by this time, were impossible to realize.

The End: Suppression and Demobilization

The “August 5 Theory” caused serious concerns not only for the Preparatory Provincial Revolutionary Committee and the East Wind faction, but also for many leaders from the Flag faction. From January to March 1968, with the nationwide attack on factionalism and the denunciation of Hunan’s Shengwulian, many of both the East Wind and the Red Flag factions attacked the “August 5 Theory,” including Zhongshan University Red Flag, once one of the most militant Flag organizations.

Although the “August 5 Theory” encountered pervasive opposition, it proved to be influential with the further development of the Cultural Revolution in Guangzhou. After the Provincial and Municipal Revolutionary Committees were established, the Flag faction lost its once superior position, and its fate was now in the hands of the PLA. The dangers warned of earlier by the “August 5” activists had been proved true. The Flag leaders who had laid their hope in the alliance were taught a lesson.

In the spring months of 1968, various units in the Flag faction confronted the military.40 Some members even put forward a so-called “Theory of the Second Revolution” (erci geming lun), which was in all likelihood influenced by the “August 5 Theory,” emphasizing that the Cultural Revolution was not yet completed and must be carried out to the end.

As the “August 5” activists and their supporters had warned, the military, which held the real power in the revolutionary committees, began to prepare for the suppression of the Flag faction organizations.41 Spearheaded by the military and aided by its ally the East Wind Faction, the attack was launched in March 1968, in parallel with the nationwide campaigns against “ultra-leftism” and factionalism.

The increasing pressure drew the rebels closer together. In late June, the Flag faction held a meeting attended by many of its leaders. The participants concluded that the Flag faction must break away from its past blind optimism and resolutely fight against the suppression.42 However, the meeting could not save the Flag faction from defeat. In the following month, the military in Guangzhou hit hard at the rebels. In early July, the Provincial and Municipal Revolutionary Committees called for an end to all armed confrontations, and demanded all participants to return to their original work units and schools.

Ending support for the rebel groups, they also called for absolute support for the PLA and the officially sponsored worker militia.43 In mid-July, the Guangzhou Military Region took action against the Flag faction and seized control of several of its important bases. The worker militia and police forces, both under the control of the conservative East Wind faction, were deployed. Mass arrests were made against members of the Flag
faction, essentially ending the mass-mobilization phase of the Cultural Revolution in Guangzhou. The crackdown of the Flag Faction in Guangzhou was parallel to the suppression of rebels nationwide, which already had become an unmistakable trend.

In July, the CCP Central Committee, State Council, and Central Military Commission, and Central Cultural Revolution Group repeatedly issued directives prohibiting armed conflicts and permitting the use of lethal force against the rebels.44 This was brought home most forcefully to Guangzhou’s Flag faction by the mass exodus from the neighboring province of Guangxi, where the local rebels were brutally suppressed by the PLA and militia forces and tens of thousands were killed.45

The suppression continued throughout the summer of 1968. Even though members of the Flag faction continued holding meetings and discussing strategies, little success was achieved. By the end of July, the demobilization of the Red Guard movement accelerated nationwide. In Guangzhou, many rebel leaders were arrested, and denounced as “bad heads” (huai toutou) at massive rallies. By late August, the Flag faction had been largely dismantled.46 While some of the unyielding elements continued to battle, by the early fall,
it was all but over.

Source: Heterodox Currents in China’s Cultural Revolution: A Case Study of Guangzhou-Heng Ge 2012


17 “Guanyu Guangdong wenti de jueding” [The Decision’s on Guangdong’s Issues], November 12, 1967, collected in Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 1971, 284-285

18 Rosen, Red Guard Factionalism, 198.

19 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 324.

20 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, p. 328.

21 Ibid., p. 328.

22 “Huang Yongsheng tongzhi dui Guangzhou ge geming qunzhong zuzhi fuzeren de jianghua (zhaiyao)” [Comrade Huang Yongsheng’s Speech to Responsible Persons of Revolutionary Mass Organizations of Guangzhou (Excerpt)], December 12, 1967, collected in Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng
Shulüe, 1971. English translation is quoted in Survey of China Mainland Press, #4098, January 12, 1968, p. 5-6.

23 For more details about Xiang River Storm please reference Unger, “Whither China,” 1991.

24 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 329.

25 Sansi zhanbao [Bulletin of The Third Headquarters], Issue 38, August 24, 1967, quoted in Rosen, Red Guard Factionalism, 215-216.

26 Liu Guokai, Guangzhou Hongqipai de Xingwang, 161.

27 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 329-330; Liu, Guangzhou Hongqipai de Xingwang, 160.

28 The following account is drawn from Zuo Shiyi, “Hongweibing yundong zhong yige bei yiwang de ren he shi: Yu Hong yu Guangdong diyige ma lie zhuyi xiaozu” [A Forgotten Man and His Stories during the Red Guard Movement: Yu Hong and The First Marxism-Leninism Group in Guangdong], Guancha Jia
[The Observer] 18 (April 1979): 47-53. “Black five categories” refers to landlords, rich farmers, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, and rightists.

29 Zuo Shiyi, “Yige bei yiwang de ren he shi,” 49.

30 Ibid., 50.

31 Zuo Shiyi, “Yige bei yiwang de ren he shi,” 52.

32 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 331; Zuo Shiyi, “Yige bei yiwang de ren he shi,” 52.

33 Zuo Shiyi, “Yige bei yiwang de ren he shi,” 52.

34 “Guangzhou haixu daluan—Guangzhou xiang hechu qu?” [Guangzhou Must Undergo More Turmoil—Where Guangzhou’s Movement Is Going], Bayi Zhanbao [August 1 Combat Bulletin] 4 (January 1968), Translation is quoted in Survey of China Mainland Press, # 4121, February 19, 1968: 5.

35 Ibid., 6.

36 Ibid., 6.

37 Ibid., 9-10.

38 “Guangzhou haixu daluan,” 11.

39 Ibid., 11.

40 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 332.

41 Ibid., 356.

42 Liu Guokai, Guangzhou Hongqipai de Xingwang, 201.

43 Rosen, Red Guard Factionalism, 242.

44 “Zhonggong zhongyang, guowuyuan, zhongyang junwei, zhongyang wenge bugao” [Public Announcement of the CCP CC, the SC, the CMC, and the CCRG], July 3 and July 24, 1968, in Song Yongyi, Wenhua Dageming Wenku.

45 Hai Feng, Guangzhou Diqu Wenge Licheng Shulüe, 384; Rosen, Red Guard Factionalism, 242.

46 Rosen, Red Guard Factionalism, 243.

This entry was posted in capital and class, Editor's desk, resistance, war and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.