Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution

Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution

Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution

Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution

Synopsis

"A meticulous reconstruction of the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai.... This rich & concise study should be read by anyone interested in the complexities of political protests in contemporary China." Times Literary Supplement "Strongly recommended." Choice

Excerpt

China's Cultural Revolution (CR) looms as one of the most important, yet least understood, milestones of the twentieth century. Its significance derives not simply from its immense impact on subsequent developments within China, but also from what it reveals more generally about patterns of collective action under conditions of extreme politicization. Having built one of the most powerful systems of state domination the world had ever seen, Mao Zedong in 1966 then called upon the revolutionary masses of China to "bombard the headquarters"--that is, to attack the party-state apparatus itself.

In responding to Mao's clarion call, Chinese citizens evidenced a capacity for political activism that startled even the most seasoned observers of Communist systems, reliant as they had been upon a totalitarian model that downplayed the influence of social forces. Analytical lenses had to be hastily refashioned to reflect new realities. As Franz Schurmann wrote in the second edition of his classic Ideology and Organization in Communist China,

That extraordinary event known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which came as a surprise to almost everyone in the field, called into question many analyses of China done by the growing corps of scholars of contemporary China. . . . Evidence indicates that the forces of Chinese society are equally as important as those coming from the structure of state power. . . . China's major social classes exert great pressure on the ideology and organization which direct that country. . . . This does not mean that China has ceased to be Communist, but that its communism has undergone a major transformation as the result of the Cultural Revolution.

Schurmann was not alone in drawing attention to the newfound salience of social forces. The CR marked a watershed in the analysis of contemporary Chinese politics. A number of careful monographic studies of the Cultural Revolution highlighted the role of mass participation in shaping this historic event. Facilitated by the emergence of new primary sources, most notably the Red Guard press and refugee interviews, a younger cohort of scholars jettisoned the totalitarian model in favor of alternative approaches designed to explain the political activism of ordinary citizens.

Pathbreaking as this research proved to be, its findings were nonetheless constrained by the limitations of the new sources themselves. The Red Guard materials revealed much about the actions and attitudes of students in Guangzhou and Beijing, but relatively little about the perspectives and political movements of . . .

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