Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Yingjie Guo
Chapter 2: The Cultural Revolution: class, culture and revolution
The Cultural Revolution started nearly half a century ago in 1966; it still remains a controversial topic not only in terms of its consequences, impact and significance but also in terms of why and how it happened. In fact, it is even controversial in terms of how long it lasted. Some (Badiou 2005; Russo 2005) argue that it lasted only for three years, whereas the post-Mao Chinese government, the Chinese intellectual and political elite and some Western scholars (MacFarquhar and Schoenhals 2006) maintain that it lasted ten years. The post-Mao Chinese official discourse also frequently refers to the Cultural Revolution as shi nian haojie (ten years of disaster or holocaust), a version endorsed by the majority of the Chinese intellectual elite (Gao 2006), who have been continuously turning out memoirs, biographies and stories to condemn Mao Zedong personally and the Mao era in general (Gao 1995). At the same time, no dissenting voice has been allowed by the Chinese government in the interpretation and understanding of the so-called Cultural Revolution period. For the post-Mao regime, one can condemn institutional, personal and cultural destructions during the Cultural Revolution period; but no discussion is allowed about whether there were institutional constructions, reforms, and renovations. There was no regional diversity and no difference between the rural and urban sectors, and, above all, different attitudes and different actions motivated by different classes of people are a non-issue. There are more dissenting voices among academics, especially outside of China’s official discourse.
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