on December 29, 2006
There have been many accounts of the 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,' the era of purges and near-civil wars in China from 1966 to 1976. Most accounts have been based upon public documents, weighted toward the Chinese Communist Party's (often re-written, revised, re-created) interpretation of events. This incisive study starts with those sources but draws upon memoirs, interviews, and numerous other sources to provide the most comprehensive and objective overview of this tragic era in China's history. In the process, it debunks much of the mythology about the Cultural Revolution, written from western or Chinese sources.
People not familiar with this era, which is crucial to understanding the successes and continuing problems of China's political system, will find Mao's Last Revolution is easily the best study yet written. The scale of research carried out by the authors is staggering, with many individual stories of the 'victors' and 'losers' in the different stages of the Cultural Revolution: from Liu Shaoqi (purged as 'China's Khrushchev' by the extreme leftists in 1966), Lin Biao (Mao's designated successor and denounced as an arch-traitor in 1971 after a purported coup d'etat), the Gang of Four, and Deng Xiaoping (purged twice and the ultimate victor who spent the next twenty years undoing the damage triggered by Mao). The narrative enables a reader to grasp the order and logic of developments in a highly chaotic period. Mao's Machiavellian plotting is presented objectively and the authors carefully reveal how his own actions ultimately led to the failure of the Cultural Revolution and the rise of a leadership committed to alternate roads for China. This is a scholarly book without exciting prose. Still, as events unfolded, I found it riveting and the narrative of horrors terrifying. Conservative estimates suggest in excess of 35 million were persecuted with probably more than 1.2 million casualties. The twists and turns, the rise and fall of different pretenders are all presented objectively. Well worth your time and money if you want to understand modern China.
on October 30, 2006
MacFarquhar has been writing about the Chinese (palace) politics for all his career. This new book is a laborious attempt to reveal the deeper things behind the infamous Cultural Revolution. It is very detailed study on the period, very interesting read.
But at the same time, he applies too much western concept on the Chinese politics and life, which is a great limitation. Unfortunately, this approach is very common among intl China scholars, though it may block our understanding of the issues in some ways. In this regard, this book is obviously limited in its depths and insights. A far more insightful book on the Chinese Communist system is this: China and the new world order: how entrepreneurship, globalization, and borderless business are reshaping China and the world, by outspoken Chinese journalist george gu, which sheds huge insights on the inner workings of the Chinese political and business world (including cultural revolution)