The Red Guard: A Report on Mao’s Revolution
China in the Year 2001
China Looks at the World, Reflections for a Dialogue: Eight Letters to T’ang-lin
China is so distant, big, and complex that each Marco Polo nowadays tells a different tale. The authors of the three books under review—a cool Swedish journalist, a passionate Chinese true-believer, and a philosophical Frenchman—give very different impressions of Chairman Mao’s revolution. Unencumbered by first-hand contact ourselves, we Americans can judge only at second-hand whether Mao’s China is working or in deep trouble, expansionist or merely defensive. These questions will become even more interesting if China tries to keep us over the barrel in Vietnam by coming into the war herself.
Hans Granquist has been for many years a correspondent for Swedish newspapers, radio, and television in Hong Kong, and was in China in November and December, 1964, and in April and May, 1966. He finished this book at the beginning of January but has added new material to the English translation from the Swedish, bringing his account up to May of last year. He sees the issues of Mao’s Cultural Revolution as a personal competition for power among interest groups. Following Stuart Schram and others, he sees Mao as “a revolutionary romantic, a utopian,” “an old man in a hurry.” Mao has the idea (which is probably his chief contribution to Marxist-Leninist theory) that “contradictions among the people”—the “non-antagonistic” kind that must be settled by teaching and persuasion—are perpetual and in the nature of things. Therefore they can be resolved only by “permanent revolution,” in effect a continual series of campaigns mobilized to reform one or another aspect of social conduct in one or another part of society.
Granquist proceeds to analyze the various kinds of opposition to Mao’s nostalgic ideal of a decentralized, self-sufficient “guerrilla communism.” Against this opposition, Mao, through Lin Piao, first turned the Army into a political base from which to battle the post-1949 “administrative generation” in the Chinese Communist Party. There then ensued the successive phases of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: the effort, in 1964, to train an elite of “revolutionary inheritors,” youths who could carry on the cause; the creation, in August 1966, of the Red Guards as extra-party shock-troops, millions of them, emerging from the youthful masses (more than half of China’s 750 million people are in their twenties or younger). These, in turn, met the passive resistance of the local Party bureaucrats, who sabotaged efforts to purge them by putting into the field their own rival Red Guards, raising workers’ wages, and generally compounding the confusion. “Mao was stuck in the mire of his own Cultural Revolution…. No one could differentiate reliable Maoists from those who were not.” The result of this confusion has been the emergence of the Army as the only available group with sufficient power to restore order.
But Granquist concludes that “Mao’s final goal is still the creation of a society in which it is impossible for a certain group of people—be they experts, intellectuals, or Party members—to regard themselves as superior to the …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.