Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class

Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class

Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class

Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class

Synopsis

Rise of the Red Engineers explains the tumultuous origins of the class of technocratic officials who rule China today. In a fascinating account, author Joel Andreas chronicles how two mutually hostile groups- the poorly educated peasant revolutionaries who seized power in 1949 and China's old educated elite- coalesced to form a new dominant class. After dispossessing the country's propertied classes, Mao and the Communist Party took radical measures to eliminate class distinctions based on education, aggravating antagonisms between the new political and old cultural elites. Ultimately, however, Mao's attacks on both groups during the Cultural Revolution spurred inter-elite unity, paving the way- after his death- for the consolidation of a new class that combined their political and cultural resources. This story is told through a case study of Tsinghua University, which- as China's premier school of technology- was at the epicenter of these conflicts and became the party's preferred training ground for technocrats, including many of China's current leaders.

Excerpt

When I first visited Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1997, my aim was to learn about the battles that took place there three decades earlier during the Cultural Revolution. I had heard about the “hundred day war” between student factions at Tsinghua and knew that one side was led by Kuai Dafu, a student whose name had become synonymous with the rebellious spirit of the period. My curiosity about the Cultural Revolution was inspired by a larger interest in the transformation of China’s class structure since the 1949 Revolution, but it only gradually occurred to me, as I interviewed Tsinghua employees and alumni, that in addition to being an important site of Cultural Revolution battles, the university had for decades been at the epicenter of conflicts surrounding the emergence of a new class of technocratic officials.

Before the Cultural Revolution, Tsinghua—as China’s leading school of engineering and technology—had been charged with training “Red engineers.” Technocratic visions flourished at the university and students believed they would lead the country’s transformation into an industrialized socialist republic. These visions were always controversial. They were at odds with the Chinese Communist Party’s programmatic commitment to eliminate class distinctions, including those based on the differences between mental and manual labor, and they were foreign to most of the party’s cadres, who were peasant revolutionaries who celebrated traditions born of rural warfare and harbored a deep distrust of the educated elite. Simmering tensions came to a head during the Cultural Revolution. Tsinghua became a prominent target and after factional fighting was suppressed, Mao Zedong dispatched a team of workers and soldiers to the university and charged them with eliminating elitist educational practices and preventing the school from becoming an incubator of a “bureaucratic class.” For nearly a decade, the campus served as a celebrated site for . . .

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