Category Archives: Calture Revolution

Julia Lovell: The Cultural Revolution on Trial by Alexander Cook review – a sensational moment in Chinese history

Yao Wenyuan

Irrational premise … Yao Wenyuan, a writer and member of the Gang of Four, is tried in 1980. Photograph: Tang Likui/AP

China’s civil society has suffered badly in the political crackdown of the last four years: journalists are stifled by ever-tightening constraints; intellectuals are nervous of even saying the president’s name in company, for fear of being seen as denigrating the cult of “Uncle Xi”. Above all, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) has rained down blows on the rule of law. Legal personnel have been held for months in “black” prisons without access to counsel and been shackled, tortured, their family members harassed. On 14 January this year, China’s chief justice aggressively emphasised that the law was subservient to party writ: “We should resolutely resist erroneous influence from the west: ‘constitutional democracy’, ‘separation of powers’ and ‘independence of the judiciary’. We must make clear our stand and dare to show the sword.” Continue reading

Madeleine Thien, Canada’s newest literary star, a favourite to win prestigious Man Booker Prize

Vancouver-born author won Governor General’s Award, also shortlisted for Giller Prize

By Nigel Hunt, CBC News Posted: Oct 24, 2016 2:50 PM ETLast Updated: Oct 25, 2016 8:29 AM ET



‘I feel like I’ve won the lottery of lotteries already,’ said Booker-nominated Canadian author Madeleine Thien, seen greeting a fan at the 2016 Vancouver Writers Festival. Thien’s latest novel is also nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the Giller Prize and other honours. (CBC)

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Charlie Hegarty: The ceaseless inferno of Maoist China

Porcelain figures depicting the Cultural Revolution on a stall in Beijing

Porcelain figures depicting the Cultural Revolution on a stall in Beijing (AP)

How beating a class enemy became a favourite pastime in the China of Chairman Mao

The Cultural Revolution
by Frank Dikötter, Bloomsbury, £25 Continue reading

Tienchi Martin-Liao: Using the Red Guard’s Language to Commemorate the Cultural Revolution


Three young Chinese Red Guards from the Cultural Revolution. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The rhetoric of the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution in China mirrors the Red Guard’s language of 1966.

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China’s Cultural Revolution Through Eyes of Journalist Morley Safer

Natalie Liu, July 02, 2016 9:22 PM
Morley Safer

“60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer arrives for Walter Cronkite’s funeral at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in New York, July 23, 2009. Safer died in May 2016.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the official launch of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution by the Chinese government. Continue reading

New Book by Guobin Yang Explores the Red Guard Generation in China

Yang GuobinIn 1966 — exactly 50 years ago this week — Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong made a sweeping edict: China would purge its corrupt capitalist remnants and awaken to a new era of Communist ideology, true and pure. In heeding the call of the Cultural Revolution, China’s youth formed Red Guard groups whose fierce adherence to Maoist ideology drove them to engage in an uncompromising purge of anything Confucian, Western, or bourgeois. For several years, violence wracked China’s cities.

For young people coming of age at that time, life was profoundly different than that of generations before or since.  In his new book, The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China, Professor Guobin Yang explores what happened to that generation and how their experiences shaped China for decades to come.

In the book, published by Columbia University Press, Yang argues that the forces that made the revolution also set in motion its undoing. After two years of fighting, millions of Red Guard were ordered by Mao to be “sent-down” to rural villages, partly as a means to control and curb the violence.

“The type of political culture they grew up in was one of loyalty to Mao, to the revolution, to struggle against class enemies, to the collective complete sacrifice of the self,” explains Yang, who is an Associate Professor of Communication and Sociology at Penn as well as a faculty member of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China and the Center for East Asian Studies. “But because of the violence, they had a sense of disillusionment. After all the fighting, nothing seemed to have been achieved.”

The sent-down youth were also woefully unprepared for the adjustment to rural life. They found rural China “backward” and were unprepared to become peasants. The revolution had used the slogan “Down with the self,” and considered real life personal concerns to be bourgeois. Yet, in one village, the village party secretary welcomed city youth’s arrival by telling them that “farming is for yourself.” The Red Guard generation was forced to think about its own day-to-day interests and came to appreciate the values of ordinary life rather than high-blown revolutionary ideals.

It was also the beginning of an underground culture as former Red Guards began to pick up their books again to re-educate themselves.

“They questioned the revolution and its meaning, gaining a new understanding of themselves, their society, politics,” says Yang. “Rural life was totally different than what they had learned in school before the Cultural Revolution.”

Such a generational transformation provides a foundation for both profound political and social change in China. Politically, Yang, says, the new outlooks of the Red Guard generation led to the first wave of popular protest for democracy from 1976 to 1980. This period marked the end of the Mao era and the beginning of the economic reform.

Guobin Yang

Guobin Yang, Ph.D.

In the book, Yang also makes a link from the sent-down youth to the beginning of economic reform in the late 1970s, which was a reversal of the Maoist planned economy. The government began to recognize private business, but faced resistance. Entrepreneurship had too long carried a moral stigma of dishonor.

“Because of the experience they had in the countryside, private enterprise was more acceptable to some members of the Red Guard generation,” says Yang. “Many of them had returned to the cities and couldn’t find jobs from the state. That understanding of personal interest and working for your own money and happiness had become acceptable to them. It laid a social foundation for the economic reform to take off. Otherwise it would have been harder to move from a planned to a market economy.”

In providing this new frame through which to view Red Guard activism, Yang  concludes the book by looking at the politics of history and memory, arguing that the generation’s memories of that time  often depend upon which side they happened to have been on 50 years earlier.

The release of Yang’s book, called “a major new study” by The Nation, coincided with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As public debates about the contemporary ramifications of the Chinese Cultural Revolution exploded this month in the mainstream media, Yang’s book makes a timely scholarly contribution.

The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China is available now from Columbia University Press.