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Publisher's Summary

After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives from 1958-1962, an aging Mao Zedong 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, capitalistic elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. Young students formed the Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semiautomatic 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 50 people.
The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976 draws for the first time on hundreds of previously classified party documents, from secret police reports to unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches. Frank Dikötter uses this wealth of material to undermine the picture of complete conformity that is often supposed to have characterized the last years of the Mao era.
©2016 Frank Dikötter (P)2016 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"A fine, sharp study of this tumultuous, elusive era...[An] excellent follow-up to his groundbreaking previous work...Dikötter tells a harrowing tale of unbelievable suffering. A potent combination of precise history and moving examples." (Kirkus)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Dulce on 01-29-17

Dry as Dust but So Important

I became interested in the People's Republic of China almost 30 years ago, when I met a fellow grad student who was a Chinese citizen. He told me about his family's exile to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and the confiscation of their possessions because his father was an intellectual. The few books that they were permitted to keep were soon gone, as they had to be used for toilet paper. My friend was five years behind in his education because the schools had been dismembered by the Red Guard. His father was imprisoned and was fortunate to survive.

Dikotter's book is an eye-opening account of this period. We knew nothing of it at the time; in fact, student radicals in the US were waving Little Red Books and extolling the virtues of Chairman Mao. While maybe--just maybe--not quite as evil as Hitler and Stalin, Mao was responsible for the mass murder of Chinese citizens not only during the Great Famine, but also during the Cultural Revolution. He mostly stood back and allowed the atrocities to be directed by others, but he was the guiding force. The destruction of higher education, indoctrination of young people into a crazed eliminationist ideology, and the hate-filled humiliation, torture, and murder of thousands upon thousands of intellectuals and ordinary people during the supposed "cleansing" of those "infected" by western ideas are Mao's legacy from these days.

Unfortunately, the book is overladen with lists, statistics, and extraneous detail. The narration is droning. I can't comment on the narrator's pronunciation of Chinese, but his reading is monotonous. I got through the book because its overarching content and message are so important. We were fools ever to believe that Communism could cure the evils of the world rather than create many of them.

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By pchristakos on 01-26-17

Good story but so so narration

This is a good book well researched it, but spoiled by poor narration. Specifically the narrator constantly mispronounces Chinese names creating some confusion on the part of the reader

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