The World Turned Upside Down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Farrar. Jan. 2021. 768p. ISBN 9780374293130. $40. HIST
The Cultural Revolution was a mass movement launched in the People’s Republic of China from 1966 to 1976. In 1981, the Chinese Communist Party wrote an official history of that event interpreting it as a mistake by Mao Zedong that was taken advantage of by “counterrevolutionary cliques.” Journalist Yang (Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962), the first mainland China-based independent scholar to provide a complete history of the Cultural Revolution, offers a more nuanced interpretation here. According to Yang, the revolution was a complex and chaotic situation that multiple interest groups used to try and advance their position. Liu Shaoqi (Mao’s onetime designated successor), rather than being the helpless victim of the revolution as portrayed in the official history, was the leader of the bureaucratic clique. And while Liu’s fate was personally disastrous, it was his clique that eventually emerged victorious over the rebel faction after the deaths of Lin Biao, Mao, and the arrests of the Gang of Four. Yang also points out that while the various factions were competing for power, it was the common people who suffered from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
VERDICT This detailed and thoroughly researched work is essential reading for all students of modern Chinese history.
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