Some Chinese refer to their lives before and after the Cultural Revolution as if that storm of the Sixties were a religious conversion. Like John Bunyan writing with enthusiastic horror of his unregenerate days, the cadre or craftsman today says he was chief of sinners before 1966, then as grace abounded in the form of the cultural revolutionary line he suddenly saw previously unrecognized differences between dark and light. Recent visitors to China who knew the country only before 1949, as well as those in China for the first time, have naturally been swayed by such testimony. Yet, as I recall from a visit in 1964, China was hardly a cesspool of capitalistic tendencies before the Cultural Revolution.
Was it all necessary, the turmoil, the deep soul-searching, the fighting and polemics, the (usually temporary) purging of “capitalist-roaders” and later of “ultra-leftists”? Was the Cultural Revolution as successful as is claimed by those who now look backward with the cup of victory in their hands? Is China today more proletarian and socialist than a decade ago? Have the youth become sturdy pines instead of hothouse plants, as Mao Tse-tung wished?
Few Americans have seen as much of the Chinese revolution at first hand as has William Hinton, who is now a farmer in Pennsylvania. He went to China as a UN technical officer during the Forties and stayed on after 1949. He wrote a marvelous book, Fanshen, about the rural transformation in the northwest, and later another fine book, Iron Oxen, about modernization and social change in agriculture. These valuable studies were published only after the author had been harassed by the US government. The notes for Fanshen were taken from him by US Customs and the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security and held for some time. Until recently Hinton’s was a small and lonely voice, drowned out among those commentators on the Chinese scene who were calling the Chinese communes mad or evil or both. A not untypical view before the Cultural Revolution was that of Lucien Pye, who said the communes were “lunacy,” a “form of Chinese madness.” 1 After the Cultural Revolution a characteristic opinion was that of Theodore White, who wrote that the Chinese “must be brought to recognize they are the biggest factor in the world’s disorder, and we must untangle the madness of their minds.”2
But long delayed acceptance of the fact that China poses no threat to the US has put softer things on the tongues of most commentators. Even Joseph Alsop has lain down like a newly religious lion with the very lamb of Peking communism he once took to be a menacing monster. With the publication of his two new books on politics and ideology, Hinton will be more seriously listened to.
Hundred Day War tells of two years of political struggle at an important university in a nation where universities are particularly important. At one level the struggle of the cultural revolutionaries at Tsinghua University was aimed at…
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