Notes on Methodology
This book is based in large part on three sources of information: (1) Chinese newspaper accounts, official documents and statistics; (2) scholarly books and articles published by Chinese and Western scholars; (3) in-depth interviews with fifty-seven Chinese adults residing in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1990- 1991. The last source was the most important one as it forced me to reformulate my research questions and shaped the way I interpreted family life and political behavior in Mao's China.
During the course of field interviews, I found many people cooperative. In the early stage of my fieldwork, I arranged a few interviews by telephone appointments. I discovered later that drop-by visits to the homes of potential interviewees were less formalistic but equally welcomed. Such visits may be considered highly inappropriate by Western standards but not by Chinese ones. It is in fact a cultural practice. Chinese people are used to drop-in visits and my informants were quite familiar with the custom. In China, it was hard at the time to have access to telephones. A telephone-scheduled appointment was unrealistic and looked unnatural in the eyes of Chinese. I came to realize this after the first five or six interviews. Subsequently I just dropped by the respondents' homes for interviews at a time considered convenient to them and was welcome in most cases. I was glad to realize that data collection methods would not be effective without taking the cultural context into consideration.
At the beginning of each interview I spent a great deal of time making sure that the respondent understood the purpose and design of my research. This was aimed at helping him or her to understand that my work was all about the Cultural Revolution. Since the Chinese government has officially criticised the Cultural Revolution, a discussion of the subject bears no political risk. I also guaranteed anonymity to the interviewee.
The interviews were based on a format of self-narrative life history. I asked each interviewee to recollect his or her personal experience in Mao's China. I also asked them to recall information about classmates and teachers so that I could collect as much information on the Mao era as possible.
The interviews were open-ended to allow me to clarify certain issues and probe possible answers. After the interview I returned home and took notes. I