Thursday, June 30, 2016

Guobin Yang's "The Red Guard Generation"

Guobin Yang is an associate professor of communication and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the award-winning The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China, and reported the following:
It seems that my book passes the Page 99 Test reasonably well.

The book traces the political activism of the Red Guard generation from the 1960s to the present. As the first cohort socialized in the People’s Republic, the Red Guard generation was cultivated as “flowers of the nation.” People of this generation grew up as true believers of Mao, revolution, and liberation. In their Cold War-imprinted imagination, the world was unequivocally black and white – communism vs. capitalism, east vs west, good vs. evil, oppressors vs liberators. They dreamed of saving the world by carrying out a new revolution, even if the revolution had to be violent and they had to sacrifice their own lives. When the Cultural Revolution started in 1966, they saw it as their opportunity to tear down the old world and prove their revolutionary credentials. This mentality of the savior of the world came from their education, but it also had Confucian origins.

The first paragraph on Page 99 discusses this Confucian origin by citing the following words from Kang Youwei, one of the greatest Confucians in modern China:

“The purpose of my creation was to save the masses of living things.... Thus every day the salvation of society was uppermost in my thoughts and every moment the salvation of society was my aim in life, and for this aim I would sacrifice myself.”

Page 99 then quotes the following pledge of the first Red Guard organization in 1966:
“We are the guards of red power. The Party Central and Chairman Mao are our mountain of support. Liberation of all mankind is our righteous responsibility. Mao Zedong Thought is the highest guiding principle for all our actions. We pledge: to protect the Party Central and our great leader Chairman Mao, we are determined to shed our last drop of blood!”
The page continues:
Despite differences in content and context, these pronouncements both effused over a sense of divine power of the kind typical of the neo-Confucian notion of the self. They both exhibited an aspiration to purportedly higher orders of life and an implicit rejection of the values of ordinary life. The Red Guard pledge was characteristic of the identity of the Red Guard generation at the beginning of the Red Guard movement. It was only in the course of the movement and then in the rustication period that this self-understanding began to change. The affirmation of the values of ordinary life in the rustication period constituted a crucial aspect of this change.
The remainder of the page begins my analysis of their experiences in the sent-down period by recounting the history of the policy of the sent-down movement.

Taken as a whole, then, Page 99 of my book discusses a pivotal turning point in the life course of the Red Guard generation – the change of their role from world-saving Red Guards to sent-down youth who came to embrace what they had previously rejected: personal interest and individual happiness. A central objective of the entire book is to try to understand the sources and consequences of this transformation. One of the most important results of this transformation was the Democracy Wall movement in 1978-1980. In articulating the political demands of freedom and democracy, the Democracy Wall movement represented the rejection of the values expressed by Red Guards in 1966. This reversal happened in the span of about ten years. It was one of the biggest ironies in modern Chinese history.
Learn more about The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue