Frank Dikötter – The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962—1976
Part of Dikötter‘s trilogy on Maoist China, with the other volumes covering the Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. The Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) caused millions of deaths from starvation, and its attempt at industrialization failed. Rather than admit defeat, Mao decided to double down, and began the Cultural Revolution just four years after the Great Leap Forward ended. In some ways, Dikötter argues, the Cultural Revolution was a continuation rather than a distinct event.
It formally lasted for a decade until Mao’s 1976 death, though by then it had tapered off somewhat. This second push went only marginally better than the first. It also dismantled China’s higher education system, leaving an entire generation essentially with almost no college graduates—at least from domestic universities. China’s university system is still stunted, with professors afraid to do anything that might be considered politically our of line. This has had predictable effects on subsequent generations’ entrepreneurship, political diversity, and cultural output such as literature and film.