Book Review - A Social History of Maoist China: Conflict and Change, 1949-1976 by Felix Wemheuer

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    Abstract

    In a 2016 interview, Yu Xiangzhen reflected on why she, at age thirteen, had become a Red Guard (紅衛兵 / Hong Weibing): "We all shared the belief that we would die to protect Chairman Mao.… Even though it might be dangerous, that was absolutely what we had to do. Everything I had been taught told me that Chairman Mao was closer to us than our mums and dads. Without Chairman Mao, we would have nothing." But this revolutionary belief soon gave way to terror: "Each time we fell asleep the screams woke us up. The screaming never stopped."[1] Likewise, Jan Wong's memoir, Red China Blues (1996), details her shift from true believer and Maoist romantic during the late Cultural Revolution to disillusioned critic of the Chinese party-state. Nien Cheng's Life and Death in Shanghai (1986) and Jung Chang's Wild Swans (1991) mirror such harrowing accounts of the darker side of Maoist China, whereas Joseph Escherick's family history, Ancestral Leaves (2011), tracks members of his wife's (and his) family as they experienced first the sanguinity, then the harsh repression of the People's Republic (PRC). But not all remember the era this way. Dai Cheng, whom South China Morning Post journalist Jun Mai interviewed in 2016, exclaimed: "We will never forget the Mao era" because Mao "made us secure throughout our lives. We didn't need to pay for medicines, education or housing. And there was no corruption." Another respondent, former Chongqing Red Guard leader and onetime vice director of the city's revolutionary committee Li Musen, said that he "admire[ed] the revolutionary committees during the Cultural Revolution" because "it was a reform of the government. There's no more supervision now."[2] Some recall the Mao years fondly as an era of social mobility, improved living standards, and educational access; others remember the instability, Mao-frenzy, violence, starvation, and death.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)13pp
    JournalH-Net
    Issue numberOctober 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

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