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In Cultural Revolution, Chinese "Tried to Turn Their Homes into Fragile Islands of Freedom"



(p. C8) Mr. Dikötter's greatest contribution with "The Cultural Revolution," which is the third in a trilogy on China during the Mao era, is his undermining of the conventional view of the period following Mao's death in 1976. The prevailing narrative, much encouraged by the Communist Party, is that the Chinese state began "lifting" hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through its sage adoption of capitalist-style policies officially called "reform and opening," beginning with an end to systemwide economic planning and the restoration of markets.

Drawing on a growing body of existing research, Mr. Dikötter argues that China's markets were not born of the official reforms of the late-1970s and early 1980s but rather got their start before the Cultural Revolution had ended in 1976. He writes of peasants and city dwellers who had completely lost faith in the system and began improvised acts of survival and resistance, like the private trading of goods and labor, which was banned, and even small-scale industrial output.

"Senseless and unpredictable purges were designed to cow the population and rip apart entire communities, producing docile, atomized individuals loyal to no one but the Chairman," Mr. Dikötter writes. The outcome, as with so many extreme, top-down uses of power, was almost the exact opposite. As surreptitious markets began to flourish in response to scarcity, "people from all walks of life tried to turn their homes into fragile islands of freedom."​



For the full review, see:

HOWARD W. FRENCH. "'Bombard the Headquarters'; The twin pillars of Mao's campaign were uprooting supposed reactionaries and the promotion of sycophancy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 28, 2016): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 27, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Dikötter, Frank. The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2016.






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