Author(s): Frank Dikötter
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.
The final volume of 'The People's Trilogy', completing the unprecedented series on Maoist China, seen from the perspectives of ordinary people, begun by the Samuel Johnson prize-winning Mao's Great Famine.
Dikotter's third volume in the series will treat the larger-scale violence of the Cultural Revolution, so unlimited access might slow him up somewhat. But if I know Frank Dikotter, it will not stop him Independent (On The Tragedy of Liberation) With a mixture of passion and ruthlessness, he marshals the facts, many of them recently unearthed in party archives. Out of these, Mr Dikotter constructs a devastating case for how extreme violence, not a moral mandate, was at the heart of how the party got to power, and of how it then governed ... He was ready to lead the country into the giant experiment of the Great Leap Forward. Mr Dikotter has already written about that in "Mao's Great Famine", which this book only betters. The final volume of his planned trilogy will be on the Cultural Revolution, bringing the curtain down on a truly disastrous period Economist
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.