Magazine article Foreign Affairs

China's New Red Guards: The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

China's New Red Guards: The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong

Article excerpt

China's New Red Guards: The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong BY JUDE BLANCHETTE. Oxford University Press, 2019, 224 pp.

Minjian: The Rise of China's Grassroots Intellectuals BY SEBASTIAN VEG. Columbia University Press, 2019, 368 pp.

A contentious struggle between reformers and conservatives marked Chinese politics in the first decade of Deng Xiaoping's reforms. That battle seemed to have disappeared after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but in fact it had migrated from politics to intellectual life. As the post-Deng leadership was busy shrinking the role of state-owned enterprises and pushing China deeper into the global trading economy, intellectuals on the left used academic conferences and the Internet to mount critiques of neoliberalism and globalization, arguing that these policies coddled capitalists, hurt workers, and sold out China's sovereignty. Although some leftists called for a "second Cultural Revolution," they did not use violence, as the Red Guards had done in an earlier era. But they shared with the Red Guards the same veneration of Mao Zedong as the avatar of an egalitarian, anti-Western development model. With his rich description of personalities and issues, Blanchette brings these sometimes windy debates to life, revealing a little-known inner script of Chinese politics.

During the same period, other thinkers retreated from the ambitious theorizing that had been fashionable in the 1980s to focus on the concrete problems of migrant workers, sex workers, petitioners, and victims of Maoist persecution. …

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