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.Read more...
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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 Dikotter 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."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-03-07
- Reviewer: Staff
In this richly documented final volume of a trilogy on the Maoist era, Dikötter, Samuel Johnson Prize winner for Mao’s Great Famine and professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong, powerfully captures Mao Zedong’s China during the Chairman’s last decade. Digging deeply into newly released material, Dikötter paints a chilling picture of an old man with “an enormous appetite for sex” who was busy “settling personal scores.” The account opens in the wake of the Great Chinese Famine, which marked the nadir of Mao’s popularity. As Dikötter moves into the latter half of the 1960s, he divides it into the blood-soaked “red years,” when the Red Guard (an exclusive youth cadre) had free rein to slaughter those they labeled bourgeois, and the “black years,” when the purge turned inward on the party. The “grey years” of the 1970s were marked by Nixon’s visit, the chairman’s death in 1976, and the condemnation of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and her henchmen, the Gang of Four. Dikötter shows how Mao’s legacy of famine, disease, and a shattered educational system unintentionally allowed an underground society to thrive “as a realm of freedom.” Dikötter reveals that the Cultural Revolution failed to eradicate counterrevolutionary elements; instead, it erased Maoism and established a black market that continues to have global repercussions. (May)