Nicholas CliffordFebruary 19, 2007 - 3:37pm0 comments
Mao’s Last Revolution
Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals
Belknap/Harvard University Press, $35, 752 pp.
In the summer of 1967, a group of middle-school students, daughters of high-ranking officials in Beijing, forced their headmistress to crawl through a cement pipe and then beat her to death as she emerged. “These teenage girls,” wrote Yue Daiyun in To the Storm, her 1985 memoir of the Cultural Revolution, “ordinarily shy, mild, and gentle, had somehow become capable of unimaginable cruelty.”
That “somehow” betrays the author’s unwillingness to probe too deeply for fear of what she might uncover about her society. Yue’s tale is by no means atypical of the times, however. Today (save for a dwindling remnant of the faithful-not all of them Chinese), the years from 1966 to 1976 in China are almost universally seen as a time of terror, violence, and bloodshed; of families, friends, and colleagues turning against one another in their often vain efforts to save themselves from the revolution that was devouring the nation’s children.
Roderick MacFarquhar of Harvard has studied the Cultural Revolution for years, and Michael Schoenhals found himself in the midst of it as a Swedish student in Shanghai at the time. Those unfamiliar with the story’s outline may be put off by the detail in this exhaustive treatment and by the large cast of characters. That would be a mistake. (The authors do give a helpful dramatis personae.) This book is not simply for China specialists, but for anyone interested in the ways...