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

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview
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D. Making Rebellion

To the extent that it was a nationwide social movement, it is fair to say that China's Cultural Revolution remains poorly documented. There were no CNN crews present to cover the massacre of students in faraway Qinghai on 23 February 1967--when the PLA killed 169 and wounded 178 "masses" occupying the premises of a local newspaper.1 The student leaders of Beijing's Red Guard movement were never once interviewed by the Globe and Mail or Newsweek. We still do not know exactly what happened in rural Wuxuan, Guangxi, in the summer of 1968, when incidents of ritualized cannibalism marked the climax of rallies to denounce and "thoroughly eliminate" the "class enemy."2 The precious little that is known about the Cultural Revolution in, say, the major industrial center of Baoding, located less than a hundred miles southwest of Beijing, is hardly enough to sustain a slim working paper. Yet thousands died there in a brutal civil war that went on for years. As in the case of Mao Zedong's intentions, our extant record of "what really happened" in Chinese society between 1966 and 1969 provokes a wide range of questions but provides only sketchy answers.

A rare glimpse of the first weeks of "rebellion" in Shanghai is provided by an anonymous correspondent writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review (Document 23) in September 1966. This was after students on campuses all over China had first denounced their "petty bourgeois" teachers (Document 24), and the "revisionist authorities"-- eventually to be associated with Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping--had attempted with the Party's traditional means of repression to silence the "troublemakers" (Document 25).

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1
Cf. Jin Chunming, Huang Yuchong, and Chang Huimin, eds., "Wenge" shiqi guaishi guaiyu (Strange Things and Strange Words from the Time of the "Cultural Revolution") ( Beijing: Qiushi chubanshe, 1989), p. 273. Four PLA soldiers were killed and twenty-six were wounded in the incident.
2
Donald S. Sutton, "Consuming Counterrevolution: The Ritual and Culture of Cannibalism in Wuxuan, Guangxi, China, May to July 1968," Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 37, No. 1, January 1995, pp. 136-72.

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