China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview
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As China changes from a socialist state with socialist characteristics into something that still defies convenient labeling, the Cultural Revolution, as a subject of study, is in limbo. There was a time, not so long ago, when a reader devoted to the Cultural Revolution would have been designed to afford students of political science an opportunity to read up on the dynamics of Maoism and China's pattern of political and social order. But today, political scientists seem largely to have lost interest in events that predate the second coming of Deng Xiaoping. They have exiled Mao, together with his Cultural Revolution, to the academic turf claimed by the historians. And there, of course, the Cultural Revolution is not yet welcome, in part simply because it is assumed that there are no archives on it.

So why, at this stage, should anyone want to put together a reader on such an apparently forlorn subject? Who is going to read it? Is any teacher likely to hand it to her or his students and say, like Hayden White, "Don't worry about labels or schools. Here is a book. Read it. If it helps you in your own work-- good; if it doesn't--forget it"?1 As the Cultural Revolution turns thirty, the present editor's intention is to convince the skeptics among the political scientists as well as the historians that even though the conventions of their disciplines might seem to dictate otherwise, here is a subject that still/already merits your attention. A political science barren in empirical analyses of the past will find it difficult to generate the vocabulary needed to explain the significance of the reordering that seems so palpable in the present--as Vivienne Shue has shown with such persuasive force.2 And though only a handful of historians appear aware of it, the amount of quasi- archival material on the Cultural Revolution accessible and already in the public domain is massive and growing fast. Hence, there is really

Hayden White, "Interview--The Image of Self-Representation," Diacritics, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 1994, p. 92.
Vivienne Shue, The Reach of the State: Sketches of the Chinese Body Politic ( Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), p. 11.


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China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party
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