The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976

The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976

Frank Dikötter

Language: English

Pages: 432

ISBN: 1632864215

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives from 1958–1962, an aging Mao Zedong launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalistic elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. Young students formed the Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semiautomatic weapons in the name of revolutionary purity. As the country descended into chaos, the military intervened, turning China into a garrison state marked by bloody purges that crushed as many as one in fifty people.

The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962–1976 draws for the first time on hundreds of previously classified party documents, from secret police reports to unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches. Frank Dikötter uses this wealth of material to undermine the picture of complete conformity that is often supposed to have characterized the last years of the Mao era. After the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the market and hollow out the party's ideology. In short, they buried Maoism. By showing how economic reform from below was an unintended consequence of a decade of violent purges and entrenched fear, The Cultural Revolution casts China's most tumultuous era in a wholly new light.

















herself to move as fast as possible. Perspiration soaked her clothes, and some salty sweat froze at the corners of her mouth in the deep winter, but she did not slow down. Soon the cold turned her soaked clothes into a frozen armour, rattling with every movement. Surviving the campaign became everyone’s primary concern: ‘With sore backs, aching muscles and weary bones, we persevered stoically for several months.’27 Local cadres, too, pushed the workforce to the very limit. They were keen to

young radicals to seize power in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Zhou Enlai cleverly turned Yao Dengshan, a firebrand inside the ministry, into a scapegoat for the burning of the mission, accusing him of being a ‘core member’ of the May Sixteenth group. Dozens of others fell from power.2 But the height of the campaign did not come until two and a half years later. On 24 January 1970, Zhou Enlai appeared in the Great Hall of the People to address the danger posed by the underground organisation.

ordinary person came to depend on the ability to lie, charm, hide, steal, cheat, pilfer, forage, smuggle, trick, manipulate or otherwise outwit the state. Theft became routine. One survivor of the famine summed it up: ‘Those who could not steal died. Those who managed to steal some food did not die.’18 Sometimes entire villages banded together, hiding the grain and keeping two sets of books, one with the real figures and another with fake numbers for the grain inspectors. People learned to

14Directive from the Ministry of Trade, 30 Aug. 1966, Hebei, 999–4-761, p. 149. 15Chinese Propaganda Posters: From the Collection of Michael Wolf, Cologne: Taschen, 2003, p. 5. 16Shanghai, 12 May 1967, B244–2-116, pp. 52–4; Shanghai, 13 April 1968, B244–3-66, pp. 42–5. 17Shanghai, 3 Aug. 1967, B167–3-17, p. 31. 18Shanghai, 2 May 1967, B182–2-8, pp. 5–8; Nanjing, 4 Feb. 1967, 5020–2-42, pp. 1–13; Hebei, Directive from Centre, 7 Feb. 1968, 999–4-765, pp. 40–1. 19Shanghai, 2 May 1967,

ones, for instance Nien Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai or Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, I have read through dozens of self-published autobiographies, a relatively recent publishing phenomenon. They are called ziyinshu in Chinese, a literal translation of samizdat, although they are a far cry from the censored documents that were passed around by dissidents in the Soviet Union. Many are written by the rank and file of the party or even by ordinary people, and they offer insights that cannot be

Download sample