He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement, and reported the following:
The Red Guard movement was at the heart of China’s Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1968. University and high school students formed marauding bands at the behest of Chairman Mao and attacked teachers, school officials, and eventually higher party officials. They terrorized ordinary citizens and officials alike. But they also formed factions that fought against one another with a puzzling ferocity that intensified into violent campus warfare by 1968. For decades, foreign scholars have thought that these factions expressed the conficting interests of different social groups in the student population: student leaders, party members and the offspring of officials formed a more “conservative” faction that sought to limit the damage to the regime, while students from more ordinary backgrounds pushed to alter their monopoly of power and privilege. This interpretation turns out to be wrong: students on each side were from similar social backgrounds, and were fighting to justify choices they made in novel and confusing situations in a closed and authoritarian political system that made a “political error” a life-ruining prospect. Page 99 describes the backgrounds of the students who emerged as leaders of the “radical” faction at Qinghua University, China’s premier scientific and technical university and Beijing’s largest. They included the sons of decorated revolutionary veterans and party officials, leaders of the Communist Youth League, and party members from poor backgrounds—precisely those who enjoyed privileges once thought to be the prime motivation to defend political authorities rather than attack them. Page 99 does not describe these students’ destructive activities and mutual warfare—this comes later in the book. But it does go to the heart of the puzzle presented by red guard factions and the book’s overall effort to unravel the confusing and obscure politics of the period. The book’s central message is that the politics of the red guards were not driven by the conflicting interests of different social groups, but by the ambiguous choices and personal risk encountered by students in a closed and authoritarian political system in the midst of a dangerous self-inflicted crisis.Read an excerpt from Fractured Rebellion, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.
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