The Cultural Revolution
After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward, which claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962, an ageing Mao launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. His Cultural Revolution aimed to purge the country of the bourgeois, capitalist elements that he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. But he also used the Cultural Revolution to turn on his colleagues, some of them longstanding comrades-in-arms, subjecting them to public humiliation, imprisonment and torture.
Young students formed Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets. As the country descended into chaos, the military intervened, turning China into a garrison state marked by bloody purges that crushed as many as one in fifty people. When the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the marked and hollow out the party’s ideology.
With unprecedented access to previously classified party documents, from secret police reports to uncensored versions of leadership speeches, Frank Dikötter casts this tumultuous era in a new light, giving a voice to the people and the complex choices they faced.
Image credit: Wilco van Dijen