Yang Jisheng’s The World Turned Upside Down is the definitive history of the Cultural Revolution, in withering and heartbreaking detail.
As a major political event and a crucial turning point in the history of the People’s Republic of China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) marked the zenith as well as the nadir of Mao Zedong’s ultra-leftist politics. Reacting in part to the Soviet Union’s "revisionism" that he regarded as a threat to the future of socialism, Mao mobilized the masses in a battle against what he called "bourgeois" forces within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This ten-year-long class struggle on a massive scale devastated traditional Chinese culture as well as the nation’s economy.
Following his groundbreaking and award-winning history of the Great Famine, Tombstone, Yang Jisheng here presents the only history of the Cultural Revolution by an independent scholar based in mainland China, and makes a crucial contribution to understanding those years' lasting influence today.
The World Turned Upside Down puts every political incident, major and minor, of those ten years under extraordinary and withering scrutiny, and arrives in English at a moment when contemporary Chinese governance is leaning once more toward a highly centralized power structure and Mao-style cult of personality.
Fanatical ideology, cut-throat intrigue and vast bloodshed roil China in this sweeping history of the Cultural Revolution. Journalist Yang (Tombstone) styles the 1966 1976 upheaval as a civil war declared by dictator Mao Zedong against the Communist Party bureaucracy in order to undermine Party rivals, deflect public discontent with his disastrous policies, and achieve a purer Marxist utopia. The conflict pitted radical Red Guard groups against the Party establishment's more conservative Red Guards, and then against each other, in "large-scale armed conflicts." Whenever the chaos grew too unruly, Yang contends, Mao switched sides and backed the bureaucracy and military in suppressing radicals. Yang's sometimes disjointed narrative concentrates on leadership struggles as they played out in party conferences, backroom maneuvering, and factional propaganda couched in dreary jargon and hysterical invective. ("Thoroughly smash the bourgeois restorationist countercurrent," exhorted one slogan.) He also explores the human cost with statistics, and some appalling specifics, on the millions of people imprisoned, tortured, murdered, and, in the case of the Guangxi massacre, even cannibalized. Though not the most elegantly written or translated study of the Cultural Revolution, this exhaustive and sometimes horrifying account demonstrates how deranged governments become when unconstrained by democracy and individual rights.