Mao was convinced that experiments like the Cultural Revolution had to be bold, even reckless, if they were to stand a chance of success. Speaking allegorically on his favorite subject of swimming, and flaunting some classical erudition in the process, he had once made this point by invoking the words of the philosopher Zhuang Zi: "If water is not piled up deep enough, it won't have the strength to bear up a big boat."1 The deeper the water, Mao explained, the better; swimming close to the shore for fear of drowning was simply not an option.2 Having hundreds of thousands of teenagers destroy the "four olds" in an orgy of violence and destruction was one experiment; tacitly supporting slightly more mature university students in a head-on conflict with the local state was another.
While the first wave of mostly teenage Red Guards fanned out across China in search of opportunities to exercise their new powers of "revolutionary destruction" and to "exchange revolutionary experiences," members of an older generation of students on the nation's university campuses turned their energies elsewhere. Concerned with what would happen to them upon graduation, when jobs would be assigned at least partially on the basis of their political performance and not merely according to scholarly excellence, they were eager to see whatever blots might have ended up on their records during the summer officially expunged. Having been labeled anything from "rightists" and "fake leftists" to "anti-party elements" and "troublemakers" for having resisted the local authorities (that is, the work teams) during the summer of 1966, their own rehabilitation was a number-one priority. Instead of seeking to "zap forth a new proletarian world" like their younger brothers and sisters, they joined forces behind rather more concrete goals. For example, the founders of the "East Is Red Commune" organization on the campus of the Beijing Geological Institute charged the ministry party committee that had dispatched the work team to their campus with