Mao Tse-tung's latest battle is almost certainly his last. It will also probably lead to his first major and irreversible defeat. A superb political tactician, he should be able to destroy his old companions who have turned against him. But this will not attain for Mao what he set out to achieve with his "cultural revolution." For he seeks nothing less than the rejuvenation of a great revolution, the rebirth in middle age of the drive, the passion, the selflessness and the discipline it had in its youth a third of a century ago. But the clock can hardly be turned back, and a nation in the age of nuclear bombs and computers cannot behave as if this were still the age of millet and rifles.

The cultural revolution is pure Mao, with its roots not in Karl Marx but in Mao's own experience and memories, in his own idealized image of what the revolution was in its years in the wilderness, in the Chingkang mountains, in Kiangsi and, above all, in the caves of Yenan. His political ideas are permeated with nostalgia-with the Yenan syndrome. Classical revolutions spring out of popular suffering, grievance against injustice, popular protest. Mao's own revolution of the twenties and the thirties sprang out of the agonies of rural China. But his cultural revolution is made of different stuff. It is a revolution decreed from above. It is fired by no social or economic or even political protest. And even the enemies it is supposed to battle remain shadowy, nameless figures high in the party and the state.

But though this new revolution does not have its roots in popular angers, it has already produced radical changes. Above all, it has altered the balance of political power that has endured since the day Mao rode into Peking in triumph back in 1949. From that day until the autumn of 1965, the Communist party had a monopoly of political power, with no challengers allowed or even likely. The party shaped policy and governed. It controlled the arts, political thought and the classroom. It dominated the army and dealt harshly with those who wanted the army free of political commissars. It decided what was to be on the store shelves and in the rice bowls. It dictated manners and fashions. It was all, everywhere and always.

This is no longer true. As a result of the cultural revolution, the party is divided and in the throes of a purge that will go on for a long time. Its offshoot, the Communist Youth League, is inactive and awaiting the surgery of reorganization. More important, the party now faces two major challengers, both supported by Mao. One of these is the army, which, under the command of Mao's new heir-designate, Lin Piao, is more than ever a political instrument. The other rival is the network of "cultural revolution groups" and the Red Guards. This body is still incomplete and formless, but it is already a power in the land. Perhaps the most startling political fact in China today is the existence of three parallel and often conflicting instruments of power, whose relationships have not yet been clearly defined.

The second major fact is Mao's sharp swing to the left. If a Red Guard were asked what this means, he would readily explain that it signifies destruction of the "Four Olds" (the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of "the exploiting classes") and introduction of the "Four News." But, in fact, the turn to the left will sooner or later affect every phase of national life, from economic planning and management to military strategy. It is obvious that Peking has not yet thought out the implications of this move. What will happen to agricultural production if the peasant is to be deprived of his small private patch of land? What will be the impact of the proposed educational reform-shortened school terms, simplified curricula, more time spent on studying the thought of Mao Tse-tung-on the nation's technological progress? And what is likely to happen to governmental efficiency if Mao goes through with his plans to create a network of mass organizations patterned on those of the Paris Commune?

The third major fact-and one not yet properly assessed in the West-is that China has gone isolationist. Just as Stalin withdrew into isolationism after his fiasco in China in 1927, so has Peking now withdrawn into its shell. The reason for this is that the Chinese leaders wish to resolve their domestic problems before they return to the barricades of the world revolution. The bridges to the outside are being demolished: by the Red Guards' seizure of translations of Western authors found in private homes; by terminating the contracts of foreign teachers in China; or by curtailing the work of Chinese translators.

Coupled with this retreat into isolationism is a reassessment of American intentions. Sometime late in 1965 or early in 1966, Peking decided that the United States did not for the moment wish to go to war with China.


The tempest stirred by Mao has been extraordinary in many ways. There was the drama of a political giant who in his last years discovered that his revolution and his party were changing in ways he could not tolerate. There was the fury, only partly concealed from the public, of a historic debate between Mao and some of his old comrades. There was the total unpredictability of events. In a Greek tragedy, the onlooker can anticipate the tragic resolution and know in advance which heroes and which villains are doomed. In the tempest in China, the unexpected keeps happening and the most unlikely figures are struck down. The scene is somber, the theme is violence, and the spectator is constantly surprised.

Peking itself dates the cultural revolution from that day in November 1965 when a Shanghai journal opened an attack on Wu Han, deputy mayor of Peking, a historian of note and a playwright, whose great transgression was in writing historical plays about ancient villainy and virtue that made the audience think of the present. But the real beginnings of the crisis go back to the spring of 1965, when the United States began to build up its military strength in South Viet Nam and to bomb the North. The sound of explosions just beyond China's borders inevitably produced a troubled debate in Peking, Would this lead to another Korea? If yes, when would the American attack come? What should be done to prepare for this war with an enemy equipped with the most devastating weapons known to man?

China's leaders have always believed that war with "Wall Street imperialism" was unavoidable. But what was a Marxist abstraction a year earlier had suddenly acquired the feel of reality. While in Peking in April and May of 1965, I saw no panic, but my notebooks record much speculation, both private and public, on what would happen when the attack came. For the first time, the people were told that nuclear bombs might fall on Chinese cities and do grave damage. But an old intimate of Mao assured me one day that the fabric of political and social organization was so strong and resilient that it would survive a nuclear attack even if parts of it were destroyed.

The debate on American intentions went on through much of the summer of 1965. But the wars of today being what they are, the debate could not be confined to the issue of peace or war. Very soon it came to involve questions of national priorities, economic controls, public morale and loyalty, dissent on the campuses and in the arts, and the attitudes of the young.

One of the hottest debates was within the military establishment. For the third time since the Korean War, the exponents of "people's [or guerrilla] war" were locked in argument with the "professionals," who wanted a smaller, highly trained, modern armed force. The West was offered an insight into this controversy in September 1965 with Marshal Lin Piao's famous statement, "Long Live The Victory of People's War." Unfortunately, however, the West did not understand. In Washington the statement was described as an Asian Mein Kampf. Others saw it primarily as a warning to North Viet Nam not to depart from guerrilla tactics. It is now clear that the statement was rather a part of the furious debate within the high command, with Lin Piao expounding the view that finally prevailed. It is known that the professionals wanted less politics and weed-hoeing for the army, and more military training and better arms. They may even have argued in favor of renewed ties with the Soviet Union, which alone could supply the modern hardware they wanted. Lin Piao rejected all these arguments, and in the process became the principal authorized exponent of Chairman Mao's thinking. The spokesman for the professionals appeared to be Marshal Lo Jui- ching, a former police specialist and himself a rising star in Chinese politics. He vanished from sight in late November 1965.

The military crisis in Viet Nam and the disaster in Indonesia came at a bad moment for Peking. The failure of the Great Leap Forward in 1959-62 brought with it political ferment whose scope the West did not appreciate until very recently. Even the party intellectuals-its political philosophers, the editors of its newspapers, the people toiling in the maze of the propaganda committee-were beset by doubts. Political columnists in the Peking dailies were beginning to question the wisdom of the leaders, the integrity of the officialdom, the dogma itself. Emboldened, writers in the provinces began to speak of official blunders and of despair in the villages. By 1965 the economy was advancing once again, but not enough to match the dreams of the leaders or to cope with the high birth rate. The details of the new Five Year Plan were not revealed, but it clearly provided for only a modest growth.

Even more disturbing from Mao's point of view were the social currents. The gap between the city and the village, between the new urbanites and the peasants, kept widening. The new intellectual élite produced by the industrial revolution was fast losing interest in the countryside. The youth, born too late to learn revolution-making at first hand, was no longer fired by secondhand accounts. The poison of "revisionism," which Mao felt had corrupted the minds of the young in the Soviet Union, was now also at work in China.

The revolution was in peril. It was going flabby and losing its sense of direction before it had fully succeeded. Mao felt the revolution was in danger not only from the Americans, but from lack of faith and discipline, from the temptations of peacetime, from the reawakened bourgeois yearnings for comfort, status, education, stability. Heroic steps were needed to deal with this and all the other domestic problems. In 1959 and again in 1962, Mao had spoken of the need for a cultural revolution, which he made synonymous with political militancy. His wishes were briefly heeded, and then ignored. Now, with the American threat hanging over China, he wanted to regenerate his revolution, to make it dynamic again and pure of faith. At meetings of the inner circle in the fall of 1965, Mao proposed that it take the road to the extreme left.

Mao wanted more than militant slogans and resolutions. He wanted to crush the disloyal intellectuals until none would forget the things he preached at the Yenan Forum nearly a quarter of a century earlier. He wanted the professionals curbed, whether in the army or in industry, and he wanted everyone to know that it was more important to be Red than Expert. He wanted to destroy all the newfangled notions of managerial powers, incentives, profits and free market. The enemy was at the gates. Nothing but total mobilization of faith and effort could save the revolution for a century, nay, for ten thousand years.

But Mao's demand for a sharp swing to the left met with opposition among some of his old companions. Although many of these "monsters and demons" have not yet been named, the arguments they advanced in the historic debate were revealed in the party and army press. Like Mao, his opponents were aware of the grave social and political strains, the economic problems, the divisions in the army, and the threat posed by the American presence in Viet Nam. On many issues they saw eye to eye with Mao. Like him, for instance, they must have been troubled by the voices of dissent in the arts, the press and the university forums, and they were ready to join in yet another cultural purge-which may explain why the upheaval began with an attack on intellectuals. But the opponents were also pragmatists. They did not believe that the simple and violent methods and solutions of the mid- thirties could be applied in the complicated late sixties. It was time to let the experts, under party direction, cope with the problems of production, quality, costs, efficiency, priorities and marketing. The new urban class and the new intellectual élite could not be treated as if they still wore straw sandals. China, the argument seemed to run, should look forward to computers and not back to the simplicities and improvisations of the early days of the revolution.


It was in these debates, which began with the consideration of the American threat and developed into an argument on the course China is to follow for generations to come, that Mao discovered he was no longer in control of the party he had created. One reason for this was his age and indifferent health; he was no longer the man who could impose his will on his companions. But another reason was that his colleagues did not think his approach would work, and they feared the disruptive effect of the measures he urged on society, the party and the economy.

Ever since the Tsunyi Conference in 1935, early in the Long March, the party had been Mao's only power base. It was the source of authority and the real government; and it had a well-defined line of succession. For nearly a quarter of a century Liu Shao-ch'i had been Mao's heir apparent, and it seemed as if China would be immune to the kind of violent power struggles that took place in the Soviet Union. Now, suddenly, just as Mao was preparing for a momentous change of course, he discovered he could no longer fully rely on the party. He still had many allies but he could not be certain that the political machine would execute his orders as it had in the past.

Therefore, with boldness and imagination that few leaders of today could match, the old man began to build a new power base from which to launch a new revolution. Almost instinctively he turned to the army as he had so often in his crises in the wilderness. Under Lin Piao it had again become a revolutionary instrument. The dissident generals had been purged in 1959 and again in late 1965. The political commissars were supreme. The army might not be quite as effective an instrument as the party machine, but it was a political organization and each soldier was a propagandist.

But the army alone was not enough. Thus Mao looked back to the days of 1926- 27, when he toured five counties in Hunan and watched peasant bands wage class war. He needed shock troops like them to create conditions in which the party regulars opposed to him would be prevented from using their accustomed methods and controls. In early August 1966, the Central Committee met in a curious session. Neither the names nor even the number of the members present was given, so that it was impossible to know the extent of the purge, but the proceedings turned out to be vitally important. Those present called for "the recapture of the leadership" from "those within the party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road." They provided for the creation of a new permanent organ of power-in the form of "cultural revolutionary groups, committees and congresses." One of the sessions of this policy-making body was-incredibly as it then seemed- packed with teenagers, who were told to "cast out fear," and not to "be afraid of disorder." Never before had the governors of any major state called for disarray in the land.

Not long afterwards, the Liberation Army Journal urged all to study Mao's famous "Report of an Investigation Into the Peasant Movement in Hunan" as a guide to understanding the new "great proletarian cultural revolution." It was helpful advice. The Red Guards and all that followed have been patterned on the peasants of Hunan-the bands of youngsters sweeping through villages and towns with banners, drums and cymbals; the dunce caps and other humiliations for the opponents, real or imagined; the beatings and, here and there, the killings; the raids on private homes; the violence against established authority. And all these were accompanied by internal discipline, fervor and the kind of self-denial the Puritans would have envied.

The idea of using the Red Guards must have been born either very late in 1965 or early in 1966. One evidence of this is the long vacation unexpectedly given to university students in the late winter. They were as pleased with it as they were baffled, and it was not until many months later that they understood the vacation was meant in lieu of their summer holidays, which they were to spend as shock troops of the cultural revolution. The first unit of the Red Guards was organized almost surreptitiously in May 1966, at the middle school attached to the Tsing Hua University in Peking. Only a little later the storm broke out on the campus of the University of Peking, which Mao had long regarded as a dangerous center of dissent. A virago from the department of philosophy began it with "big character" posters denouncing the university's president (who was also a veteran Communist). After that came fisticuffs, turmoil, the humiliation of the president and numerous professors, almost ceaseless meetings, the deafening pounding of gongs, a purge of the faculty and the student body, suicides of teachers-and the creation of the Red Guard. From Peking the movement spread with lightning speed to other cities, and the presidents of the universities of Nanking, Sian, Chengchow and Wuhan all suffered humiliation before dismissal. The Red Guards were formally unveiled at the Square of the Gate of Eternal Peace on August 18, 1966, in the first of the immense rallies at which, as the saying went, "Chairman Mao met the revolutionary masses." This first meeting became doubly significant because it was used to present Marshal Lin Piao to the nation as Mao's new heir- designate and as the principal interpreter of his thought.

The belief that the Red Guards are a mob of hooligans who have taken over the streets is misguided. They are Mao's task force used to intimidate or even to destroy his opponents; they are an effective political tool created and used with imagination and with what the opposition must regard as total ruthlessness. Coincidentally, the movement is also a device for arousing revolutionary fervor among the young who have never experienced the real thing. (Their slogan now is, "Learn revolution-making by making revolution.") In the fall of 1966, the army took the Red Guards under its wing, and uniformed advisers began to organize the youngsters into para- military formations.

To make millions of youths available for the tempest in the streets, Mao shut down all the middle schools and universities in the land. It was a radical move that must have met with strong opposition. Indeed, no major state in this century has called such a holiday on education, in effect taking eight months or more from the school lives of millions of teenagers. The official argument that the schools were closed to allow the party to draft new educational reforms is hardly credible, for they could have been drawn up while the youths pursued their studies. But Mao needed shock troops in a hurry, and he was prepared to pay for them with time out from study.

Mao and Lin Piao made one more imaginative move in preparation for the great struggle. On Lin's orders, first the army and then the entire population began to "study the thought of Mao Tse-tung" on a scale never matched. Every soldier and Red Guard acquired his book of Mao's quotations. Passersby in the street, passengers in buses or on trains, workers at their lathes, peasants wading through paddies, all had quotations read to them by the relentless youngsters. A Westerner come to do business at the Canton fair had a nightly call from his interpreter anxious to impart to him the thought of Mao. Diners eating their chow mein did so to the sound of Mao's quotations read by girls not yet in their teens. Little paper or labor was available for other authors, as the printing presses turned out 35 million copies of Mao's essays, and railwaymen made solemn pledges to move this precious cargo ahead of all others. Some experts in the West mistakenly ascribed all this to an old man's paranoia. It was rather a brilliant device to create a climate in which no man could speak out in opposition to Mao and his ideas. No commander-in-chief had prepared for battle with greater skill and thoroughness.

One of the early highlights of the cultural revolution came in late January 1966, at a conference of the army political cadres. It was there that Hsiao Hua, the army's top political commissar, reiterated the theme of "Politics in Command" which was to dominate the nation's life in the year ahead. The meeting was given the highest publicity. At dozens of other conferences that followed, factory directors and commune chairmen, engineers and railwaymen and so many others, were given their new commandments. They were told that industrial productivity was less important than the workers' revolutionary souls; that in the seventeenth year of proletarian dictatorship, the class enemy still had his agents in high places, and they must be destroyed.

After the fall of the historian Wu Han, the purge spread to powerful ideologues in the Peking municipal party machine. By the time I visited South China in May 1966, the campaign against the "black gang" of leading party intellectuals was in full fury. At an agricultural college outside of Canton I saw more than a thousand small placards attacking the "black gang." The broadsides had been written after a mass meeting the previous evening, and the fiercest of all the denunciations was from the brush of a kitchen helper.

P'eng Chen's own fate appears to have been decided in the first fortnight of April 1966, when the one man who might have sided with him, Chief of State Liu Shao-ch'i, was out of the country. P'eng was replaced by Li Hsueh- feng, head of the party's North China bureau, who promptly instituted a purge of the Peking municipal machine. The party leaders traditionally worry about the big cities. Indeed, Shanghai and Peking have long been governed by members of the Politburo. Now Li was making sure that the capital was cleansed of dissenters and enemies, actual or potential. But he was thought to be insufficiently ruthless. By October 1966, printed "big character" posters on the wall facing the municipal party's headquarters were denouncing Li for his softness. One of the charges against him was that for a month after he had purged the party bureau the purged officials sat in on the meetings of the purgers, and received from them tea, sympathy and shelter from the pursuing Red Guards.

But the Peking municipal party was only one of the bastions captured by Mao and Lin Piao. Rapidly, as spring ran into summer, they moved to widen their foothold in the party and to limit that of the opposition. Within the party's Central Committee a cultural revolution group was set up under Ch'en Po-ta, once Mao's private secretary. The group had wide autonomy and did not limit itself to cultural matters. The next Mao-Lin act was to move in on the powerful propaganda committee. Its head, Lu Ting-yi, a pudgy and intense little man who for a quarter of a century had toiled at Mao's elbow, was cast aside. His place was given to the new star, Tao Chu, for long the party boss in the southeast and now, at 60, a leading actor in the Peking drama. Tao at once embarked on a thorough purge of the propaganda machine. His role was crucial, for through him Mao and Lin Piao now controlled all media of expression. While they could mold opinion as they wished, the opponents were denied any public forum. Still another party nerve-center taken over was the Central Committee's General Affairs office, long headed by Yang Shang-k'un, a Soviet-trained revolutionary, a Long Marcher and for many years Mao's man Friday; he simply vanished from the list of Central Committee members.

The most important of all the victories was scored in the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the seven men, led by Mao himself, who hold all power, set policies and make all major decisions. By August of 1966, Lin Piao, who had been ranked fifth, had been given the heir's place, and Liu Shao-ch'i had been cast out of the group. Chou En-lai was still Number Three. But there were now three newcomers, Tao Chu, Ch'en Po-ta and K'ang Sheng. With at least five votes out of seven, Mao could now speak, as he had in the past, for the Central Committee and for the party apparatus.

There was yet one more move to be made in this intricate and dangerous game. Mao appears to have created a sort of a "kitchen cabinet," including such close followers as Ch'en Po-ta and K'ang Sheng. Another key member of this group was Mrs. Mao Tse-tung, who emerged from the obscurity of private life to become a leading figure in the cultural revolution. The virtue of this small, tight, informal band was that Mao could wholly trust all its members.


In August 1966 came the declaration of war on Mao's opposition. The threats grew more violent until, in October, the People's Daily urged no mercy for the opponents. It called on the faithful to follow the precept of the writer, Lu Hsun, who believed in "beating the wild dog even though it is already in the water," and "once you start beating it, beat it to death." The Red Guards turned to parades, oratory and violence. By and large, it was violence controlled and meant to create a feeling of tension and fear. The teenagers who invaded private homes in Peking, smashed or seized furniture, and manhandled the occupants were guided by lists posted in each block-presumably by the police.

But inevitably, violence on such a scale could not be controlled fully. Rival groups of Red Guards appeared in schools, and they battled each other for the honor of serving the cultural revolution. So long as the Red Guards confined themselves to renaming streets, stores, restaurants, factories and noodle shops, the trouble was minor. But once the teenagers invaded factories and communes, attacked the local cadres and disrupted production, bloody clashes began to erupt between the workers or peasants on the one hand and the Red Guards on the other. The disruption of production was not heavy-affecting only a textile mill here, a tire factory there, a railway- undercarriage works elsewhere. But even this was enough to set the alarm bells ringing in Peking. Thus, at one rally after another, Premier Chou En- lai, a possibly reluctant ally of Mao and Lin Piao, began to warn the youngsters that production was sacred. In the provinces, the talk was sterner. The Red Guards were told bluntly to keep out of factories and fields, and the workers and peasants were told to stay out of Red Guard meetings, or to send only a few representatives. In September, the young militants were ordered to cease and desist until the autumn harvest was in- or go to help with the work in the fields.

If the nameless opponents in the inner circle were cowed, there was no obvious sign of it. Having gone through the same revolutionary trials as Mao and Lin Piao, they were also hard men and skilled fighters. They now had no public forum where they could dissent. Nor was it possible for anyone to stand at a street corner and voice doubt of Mao's policies, for this would have been a form of suicide. But Mao's opponents in Peking were not entirely helpless. They still controlled some important wheels in the Central Committee, and they had numerous allies and friends in the provinces. In the hinterland, orders from Mao and Lin Piao could be deliberately misinterpreted or their execution delayed. One provincial boss was accused of shelving for two months Lin Piao's order to intensify the study of Mao's works. Another was charged with failing to publish Mao's poems in the local press. Still another was accused of having spread the rumor among local cadres that Mao meant to destroy the party.

The purge in the provinces never came close to Stalinist proportions. It was selective and highly publicized to produce the widest psychological impact. Those purged included provincial party secretaries, editors, writers, propaganda experts, heads of radio stations and educators (but never a factory director or an army officer). Once chosen for the purge at a closed meeting of party leaders, the victim was put through a series of extra-legal trials culminating in meetings sometimes attended by tens of thousands of people. It was at such a "trial" that the once-famous writer, Ouyang Shan, was denounced by his former cook, his nurse and his school-age son, who (to quote the Canton Hung-wei Pao) "with irrepressible indignation shouted, 'Down with Ouyang Shan! Thoroughly indict the crimes of the anti- party element Ouyang Shan!'" To make the break complete, the boy changed his name from Ouyang Yen-hsing to Hsiang Tung-sheng.

Nothing illustrates the basic weakness of the cultural revolution better than the fact that the Chinese press could, in the same week, report both the latest nuclear test and a series of meetings at which young people ate weeds to "remember the past miseries." What Mao is seeking to do is to create a glorious tomorrow while constantly looking at yesterday. But to do this is to run against the grain of China's changing society. One of every five Chinese now belongs to the new urban society, whose tastes, needs and urges are a century ahead of those of rural China. Mao himself can take full credit for China's growing urbanization. But he will not recognize the fact that the new urbanite, having left this primitive world, does not understand why he should go back, either in time or in place. The city dwellers are physically involved in the cultural revolution; they study Mao's works, they memorize his quotations, they march and fill the squares for immense rallies. But neither politically nor psychologically is this their revolution.

This alienation of the urbanite contributes to the erosion of authority. For a decade and a half, the greatest asset of the system that Mao created was its stability. There were no cabinet crises, no massive purges, no political upheavals of the kind that rocked the Soviet Union. The line of succession was firmly established and everyone knew exactly where power reposed. The leaders made policy blunders; they often reversed themselves. But they did provide order and political stability after nearly four decades of disunity and disorder. The cultural revolution has changed this. The Central Committee commends disorder as if it were a virtue. In the provinces, party leaders sing praise of chaos. The Red Guards are sent into the streets on a rampage, and the nation's leaders not only offer their blessings but even order that no one interfere with the youngsters. Equally important has been the constant talk of leaders entrenched in high state and party posts who had to be destroyed. Who were they? What were their specific crimes? If they were enemies, why were they not brought to task at once? The denunciations might serve to promote the revolution, but they also undermined public confidence in the stability of the system.

As the powers of the party were whittled down by its rivals, Mao sought to fill the vacuum in authority with cultural revolution groups. There has been talk of new mass organizations patterned after those of the Paris Commune. But the process of creating all these new organs of power is slow and the vacuum persists. And the party leaders in the provinces, who are always held responsible for the maintenance of order, now do not know how to reconcile their duty with Peking's praise of disorder; and if their prime task has been to maintain production, they are not clear how this can be ensured while there is disorder in the streets.

These are some of the dilemmas that Mao and Lin Piao face in their great debate with the nameless opponents. As a tactician, Mao has done all he can, and even more, to make the position of his enemies untenable. But the trouble is that this is not enough. The revolution that he is trying to bring to China is a heroic project that runs counter to the aspirations of the new urban society and to the nation's urge to progress. No society that wishes to advance can long endure isolationism or a truncated educational system or an anti-intellectual climate or constant dwelling on the past, no matter how glorious. This is why the forecast is for continued tempest.

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