The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976

Author(s): Frank Dikötter


Acclaimed by the Daily Mail as 'definitive and harrowing' , this is the final volume of 'The People's Trilogy', begun by the Samuel Johnson prize-winning Mao's Great Famine.
After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962, an ageing Mao 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, capitalist elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. But the Chairman also used the Cultural Revolution to turn on his colleagues, some of them longstanding comrades-in-arms, subjecting them to public humiliation, imprisonment and torture.
Young students formed Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semi-automatic 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.
When the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the marked and hollow out the party's ideology. In short, they buried Maoism. In-depth interviews and archival research at last give voice to the people and the complex choices they faced, undermining the picture of conformity that is often understood to have characterised the last years of Mao's regime. By demonstrating that decollectivisation from below was an unintended consequence of a decade of violent purges and entrenched fear, Frank Dikotter casts China's most tumultuous era in a wholly new light.
Written with unprecedented access to previously classified party documents from secret police reports to unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches, this third chapter in Frank Dikotter's extraordinarily lucid and ground-breaking 'People's Trilogy' is a devastating reassessment of the history of the People's Republic of China.


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Acclaimed by the Daily Mail as 'definitive and harrowing' , this is the final volume of 'The People's Trilogy', begun by the Samuel Johnson prize-winning Mao's Great Famine.

Definitive and harrowing -- Book of the Week Daily Mail Dikotter never allows his intense account to degenerate into melodrama. Networks of power and information are carefully traced, revealing a movement that spiralled into general score-settling on such a scale that Mao and his allies had only intermittent control ... A fascinating account of how people twisted or resisted the aims of Mao's movement Daily Telegraph Definitive and harrowing -- Roger Lewis, Book of the Week Daily Mail Magnificent ... The author gives full acknowledgement to memoirs and scholarly works but it is his own archival research, allied to a piercing critique, that lifts the book to a higher level. He 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 -- Michael Sheridan Sunday Times 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 Given the tortuous nature of the event, what contribution does Frank Dikotter's new book make to our understanding of the Cultural Revolution? The answer is an immense one. He sheds important new light on what has long been a dark (in several respects) period in Chinese history ... The Cultural Revolution exposes, in measured prose and well-documented analysis, the impact of communist rule in a period of extraordinary stress, tension and violence, most of it unleashed by the Party itself. Together, these three books, which Dikotter calls the 'People's Trilogy', constitute a major contribution to scholarship on modern China, one that is unequalled, certainly in the English language ... There is something simply unanswerable about many of his judgments on the effects of almost seventy years of communism in China. Much of this has to do with his use of documents from official archives in China, to which access is difficult ... his patience and endurance must be considerable and his Chinese-language skills formidable ... both revealing and rewarding reading - for specialists and non-specialists alike Literary Review Gripping, horrific ... A significant event in our understanding of modern China International New York Times A fine, sharp study of [a] tumultuous, elusive era ... Excellent follow-up to his groundbreaking previous work ... Dikotter tells a harrowing tale of unbelievable suffering. A potent combination of precise history and moving examples Kirkus Outstanding The Week Searing Irish Times During 10 years of insanity, between 1.5m and 2m people lost their lives. It is all chillingly documented in Frank Dikotter's brilliant new book -- Niall Ferguson Sunday Times Magisterial New Statesman His "people's trilogy" ... has been hailed as the seminal English language work on the subject. The trilogy's enduring value lies in its unstinting description of the horrors of life under Mao ... Dikotter has done much to ensure that we see the full horror of what happened under Mao Sunday Times A significant event in our understanding of modern China Scotland on Sunday It includes colourful sketches of famous individuals, a fast-paced account of key political events, and some interesting discussions of how ordinary people experienced and contributed to specific Cultural Revolution episodes ... Impressive chapters on the early 1970s that explore and celebrate grassroots developments Financial Times A detailed, sober, bleak reminder of the horror and chaos unleashed by Mao Zedong Tablet Superb Tribune What sets Dikotter apart from many other historians of this period is his obsession with detail and insistence on bringing the story back to the individual account ... The level of research in Dikotter's book is astonishing ... but the book wears this research lightly, with the human story coming through strongly Irish Times Dikotter'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 Guardian A tragic and salutary history Catholic Herald The concluding volume of Dikotter's superb trilogy on Mao Tse-tung's China is deeply disturbing Sunday Times

Frank Dikotter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China at the University of London. He has pioneered the use of archival sources and published ten books that have changed the way historians view and understand China, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China (1992) to his last book entitled The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (2013). Frank Dikotter is married and lives in Hong Kong.

General Fields

  • : 9781408856529
  • : Bloomsbury Academic & Professional
  • : Bloomsbury Academic & Professional
  • : February 2017
  • : 198mm X 129mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : March 2017
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Frank Dikötter
  • : Paperback
  • : 317
  • : English
  • : 951.056
  • : 432
  • : 1 x 16pp B&W plate section