Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Impact on Chinese Thought, Culture, and Communication

By Krueger, Ben | Argumentation and Advocacy, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Impact on Chinese Thought, Culture, and Communication


Krueger, Ben, Argumentation and Advocacy


Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Impact on Chinese Thought, Culture, and Communication. By Xing Lu. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004; pp. xiii-250. $49.95.

Xing Lu's book combines rhetorical anal yses of primary texts with qualitative interviews and autobiography to explore the Chi nese Cultural Revolution that lasted from 1966 to 1976. (Although Mao himself proclaimed that the Cultural Revolution ended in 1969, most historians claim the revolution continued until his death in 1976.) Implemented by leader Mao Zedong, the revolution intended to silence anyone perceived to be an enemy of communism. In the ensuing violence, millions were tortured, imprisoned or killed. Lu's book is meticulously re searched, written in a readable style, and provides some insight about recent Chinese history, but its implications for further re search are disappointing.

One of the most striking features of the book is its use of data gathered from qualitative interviews and personal experience, in addition to traditional rhetorical texts. Such methods give the book a human quality and make Lu's own feelings toward her subject clear. Chapter 1 consists primarily of Lu's memories of the early years of the Cultural Revolution. Lu's father, a member of the communist party and security officer at a factory, was unfairly labeled a "class enemy" and subjected to years of torture and manual labor. Yet in spite of her father's suffering, Lu became indoctrinated in Maoist thought.

As she writes at the chapter's conclusion: "I had virtually no private thoughts and no individual expressions during those years. Even my diaries were filled with communist dogma and slogans" (96). Reflecting on her own experiences, she frames the rest of the book as an attempt to explain why the rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution was so influential in China and how it motivated people to commit barbaric acts of violence.

After showing how the Cultural Revolution affected her own family, Lu lays the groundwork for her rhetorical analysis in chapter 2, drawing on both western and Chinese rhetorical theory and philosophy. She argues that several philosophers' ideas are relevant for understanding the Chinese rhetorical situation, including Plato, Confucius, Francis Bacon, John Locke, and David Hume. She also rightly explores how the ideas of Karl Marx influenced Maoist thought. Her analysis draws from a number of other scholars, including Mikhail Bakhtin, Kenneth Burke, Michel Foucault, Michael McGee, and Philip Wander.

Chapters 3 through 6 rhetorically analyze different elements of the Cultural Revolution. In chapter 3, Lu examines political slogans, arguing that they delineate the rhetorical themes of radicalization, alienation, negation, and mythmaking. These slogans helped Mao cement his ideological control over China by discouraging individual thought and exploiting traditional Chinese culture's submission to authority. In chapter 4, Lu examines the rhetorical functions of wall posters of large Chinese characters (dazibao) that were the most common form of written communication during the Cultural Revolution.

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