Saturday, December 31, 2016

Recommended podcast: China's Cultural Revolution

Historian Frank Dikötter talked about his new book on China's Cultural Revolution in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air. During the interview described the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong's motivation for creating it and the importance of Chinese government archives to historians. Speaking of the archives he says:
Well, indeed, one of the great things about the People's Republic of China over the last I would say five, six, seven, eight, nine years is that it has very gradually been opening up archives. So you can imagine that if you can get into the party archives to study episodes like Mao's Cultural Revolution, you'll get a very different sort of insight than if you were to rely on semi-official or official publications released by the state itself.
He says the Cultural Revolution began with denunciation, but went on to widespread violence and confiscation of assets. In addition to listening to the podcast, check out this article on the Cultural Revolution and if you want still more, read his book. Dikötter feels the Cultural Revolution was motivated by Mao's fear that after the economic failure and famine of the "Great Leap Forward," a Chinese rival could succeed by denouncing him as Krushchev had done Stalin. He believes Mao conceived of the Cultural Revoltuion as a tool for distracting the people and eliminating his opponents:
And '66, with the start of the Cultural Revolution, (Mao) unleashes students against their teachers and a few months later, in the autumn of '66, incites ordinary people to remove revisionist elements from the very ranks of the party itself.
A little later in the podcast, moderator Terry Gross sums up Mao's strategy as follows:
The revolution was officially about purging the country of bourgeois values and the enemies of communism. But Dikötter says it was also about Mao settling scores with his colleagues and subordinates and turning people against each other to shore up his own power.
That sounds like a template for establishing a "populist" dictatorship with a "cult of personality."