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  • Mao and the Cultural Revolution in ChinaCommentaries on Mao's Last Revolution and a Reply by the Authors

This forum includes five commentaries focusing on a much-acclaimed book by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution, published by Harvard University Press. The book provides a meticulous account of the Cultural Revolution in China, from 1966 to 1976.MacFarquhar and Schoenhals assess the roles of Mao Zedong and other senior Chinese officials and discuss what was happening in all regions of China during this period of terror and upheaval. Five leading experts on Chinese politics and society discuss the book's many strengths but also raise questions about some specific interpretations and omissions. The forum includes a reply by MacFarquhar and Schoenhals to the commentaries.

  • Introduction
  • Mark Krammer
Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006. xiii + 693 pp. $35.00.

One of the most important and tragic events in the latter half of the twentieth century—an event that both influenced and was influenced by the Cold War—was the Greater Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, inspired by Mao Zedong. The Cultural Revolution, starting in 1966 and continuing until Mao's death in 1976, reached its height from October 1966 through the first few months of 1969, at the very time that a Sino-Soviet military confrontation was brewing. The Cultural Revolution was aimed at destroying much of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), an entity that Mao had periodically scaled back through ruthless purges, and was also targeted against anyone suspected of being an "intellectual." In 1967 the so-called Cultural Revolution Authority (headed by Mao, Jiang Qing, and Lin Biao) set up a Revolutionary Committee in Shanghai, which launched a chaotic wave of terror across China. High-ranking officials were subjected to public denunciations, ritual humiliation, and severe physical abuse, and the same practices were replicated at all levels of Chinese society, with a good deal of local initiative. An immense number of people were tortured and killed.

Despite the closed nature of Chinese society, horrific accounts of cruelty and violence made their way out of China, and official broadcasts of public denunciations were widely available. Hence, the broad contours of the mayhem and bloodshed that engulfed China during those years have long been known. What has not been known until recently, however, is the precise nature of Mao's objectives, the balance between supervision from above and initiative from below, the interaction between central and local authorities, and the radicalizing impact of events in localities on the highest leaders, especially Mao. The proliferation of memoirs by those who lived through the Cultural Revolution (whether as victims, perpetrators, or observers) and the official publication of formerly secret CCP and government documents have enabled scholars in both China and the West to fill in at least some of the many gaps in the historical record. [End Page 97]

The most comprehensive and authoritative account of the Cultural Revolution yet to appear, Mao's Last Revolution, was recently published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. The two authors of the book, Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, are among the world's foremost experts on Chinese politics underMao. Their book is so meticulous and draws on such a wealth of sources that it is likely to remain the definitive work for many years to come. Although Mao's Last Revolution focuses primarily on internal events and deals only briefly with foreign policy issues, an outpouring of recent scholarship by specialists on Chinese foreign relations has shown that events within China and Mao's domestic political goals had a crucial impact on China's external policies. Similarly, external developments could in turn be exploited by Mao and others for their domestic purposes. Thus, Mao's Last Revolution will be essential reading for those who want to study and understand China's role in the Cold War during these years.

Because of the importance of the book, the Journal of Cold War Studies solicited commentaries on it from five distinguished scholars: Lynn White, Steven I. Levine, Yafeng Xia, JosephW. Esherick, and David E. Apter. Their commentaries...

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