The concluding volume--following Mao’s Great Famine and The Tragedy of Liberation--in Frank Dikötter’s award-winning trilogy chronicling the Communist revolution in China.
After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives from 1958–1962, an aging Mao Zedong launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalistic elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. Young students formed the Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semiautomatic weapons in the name of revolutionary purity. 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.
The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962–1976 draws for the first time on hundreds of previously classified party documents, from secret police reports to unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches. Frank Dikötter uses this wealth of material to undermine the picture of complete conformity that is often supposed to have characterized the last years of the Mao era. After the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the market and hollow out the party’s ideology. In short, they buried Maoism. By showing how economic reform from below was an unintended consequence of a decade of violent purges and entrenched fear, The Cultural Revolution casts China’s most tumultuous era in a wholly new light.
Frank Dikötter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. Before moving to Asia in 2006, he was Professor of the Modern History of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has published nine books about the history of China, including Mao's Great Famine, which won the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction in 2011.
"A fine, sharp study of this tumultuous, elusive era . . . [An] excellent follow-up to his groundbreaking previous work . . . Dikötter tells a harrowing tale of unbelievable suffering. A potent combination of precise history and moving examples." - starred review, Kirkus Reviews
"If [The Cultural Revolution] were widely circulated in China, it could undermine the legitimacy of the current regime . . . This book is a significant event in our understanding of modern China." - New York Times Book Review
"Richly documented . . . Dikötter paints a chilling picture." - Publishers Weekly
"For those who have swallowed the poisonous claim that the Communist Party deserves some credit for China’s current patchy prosperity, Mr. Dikötter provides the antidote." - Wall Street Journal
"Dikötter's well-researched and readable new book on the Cultural Revolution's causes and consequences is a crucial reminder of the tragedies, miscalculations and human costs of Mao's last experiment." - The Guardian
"A fascinating account of how people twisted or resisted the aims of Mao’s movement ****" - Daily Telegraph
"The murderous frenzy of the times, which tore apart friends and families, not to speak of the Communist party itself, is powerfully conveyed." - Book of the Week, The Times
"Definitive and harrowing." - Book of the Week, Daily Mail
"The final book of his magnificent historical trilogy . . . [Dikötter] has mastered the details so well that with the most sparing use of description he weaves a vivid tapestry of China at the time . . . This brilliant book leaves no doubt that Mao almost ruined China and left a legacy of paranoia that still grips its modern dictatorship under the latest autocrat, Xi Jinping." - Sunday Times
"Like Dikötter’s two previous books . . . The Cultural Revolution exposes, in measured prose and well-documented analysis, the impact of communist rule in a period of extraordinary stress . . . Together, these three books, which Dikötter calls the ‘People’s Trilogy’, constitute a major contribution to scholarship on modern China, one that is unequalled, certainly in the English language." - Literary Review
"Gripping, horrific . . . A significant event in our understanding of modern China." - International New York Times
"Fluent, compelling and based on a wide range of evidence." - Financial Times