All of the four books under review examine the nature and the aftereffects of Mao’s revolution, which attacked special privilege under the battle cry of “class struggle.” His populist egalitarianism took as a target even the intellectual elite, who are so necessary to modernization. Since Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms seem to have left “class struggle” far behind. Is it dead or only dormant?

Before they came to power Mao and his colleagues had developed class struggle as a rationale for peasant rebellion. But once in power, Mao enlarged this style of mass revolution with two great fiascoes, first the Great Leap Forward of 1958–1960, second his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976. The Great Leap Forward (GLF) came after the People’s Republic had followed the Soviet model of industrialization for almost a decade since 1949 but found it unsuited to China. As an alternative the GLF pursued Mao’s specialty. It mobilized China’s rural masses in a great nationwide campaign, using China’s greatest resource, its labor power, in order to create (somehow) a Chinese-type socialist modernization. It didn’t work out. In fact the GLF began by condemning about half a million of China’s other resource, its “intellectuals” (high school graduates or above) as “rightist” enemies of the revolution. Mao and his colleagues, including Deng Xiaoping, put those intellectuals out of action to make way for what they hoped would be worker-peasant-soldier successors.

“Class struggle” was pushed much further in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). In 1966 Mao fielded teenagers as “Red Guards” to attack everything old, including bureaucrats and Party leaders, the entire establishment of which the intellectuals were a part. Immense destruction ensued. The universities closed. Deng Xiaoping and many others at the top were put through a grinder of vilification, struggle meetings, organized humiliation, and labor reform or imprisonment, with much violence and many deaths. Horror stories of the GPCR are still coming out, ten years after Mao died in 1976.

Because the Chinese revolution has had to march, or sometimes stumble, forward on the two legs of economic modernization and social change, we may understand “class struggle” as the shortcut to breaking up the old China’s social structure of a tiny elite ruling over the village masses. We egalitarian-minded Americans have to remember that literacy and the scholar have been closely involved with the Chinese ruling power ever since the Shang kings at Anyang around 1500 BC made decisions by consulting the ancestors and spirits and then had their scribes record the auguries on “oracle bones” in the earliest form of Chinese writing. The scribes and their writing served the ruler. Power-holding, scholarship, and culture have clung together ever since. From the peasant point of view, Mao’s attack on intellectuals as part of the old establishment may have made sense even if it proved to be no way to modernize China.

To penetrate beyond this simplistic first approximation of what Mao was up to, we can now get insight from reminiscences of survivors of the Cultural Revolution. They show us at once that an entire set of Chinese ways and attitudes were fed into the GPCR cauldron. Among these were the unquestioning dependence of all people upon the dictates of the constituted state authority; everyone’s persistent acknowledgement of the special status of the intellectual elite; and the elite’s use of personal connections (guanxi, kuan-hsi) to circumvent bureaucracy and secure special favors as the only way to get ahead in the world. These customs are of course not a monopoly of the Chinese except in their degree of prevalence. Combined with the preeminent concern for family, they helped maintain the intellectual elite’s inherited self-image that gave them the self-confidence, adaptability, and persistence to survive.

All these features emerge from Yue Daiyun’s remarkably frank account, which has been put together by Carolyn Wakeman. It suggests that as study of China continues, Mao’s role will shrink from that of originator to merely orchestrator of the revolution. The social problems he addressed so heavy-handedly will still demand attention as the economy modernizes.

Yue Daiyun’s life story is valuable on two counts: first as a dramatic narrative of how to survive a revolution while participating in it; second, as a well-analyzed case history of the vicissitudes of one upper-class intellectual. Yue is born in 1931 into an academic family. She is the daughter of a teacher of English literature, and one of her uncles studied chemistry at Harvard, another geology at Hamburg, and another medicine in Shanghai. Sure enough, in a typical diversification of roles, the second son “studied business and became manager of the family enterprises.” Her life begins at the top.

It is also well-timed. She enters Peking University in 1948, just as the Guomindang is incontrovertibly losing the Mandate of Heaven. She at once becomes active in the underground of the Chinese Communist Youth League, and on July 1, 1949, before the final victory, is admitted to the Communist party. With energy, intelligence, and a capacity for group leadership she becomes a prominent student, leading the celebration of the May Fourth movement (of 1919) in 1950 and then going as a delegate to the Second World Student Congress in Prague. On return she has experience in the south with a land reform team. On graduating from Beida (the abbreviation for Peking University) in the summer of 1952 she is selected as the graduating class representative and joins the faculty as a teacher of Chinese literature. By September she has married the university vice-president’s son and lives with his family on the Beida campus. In 1953 she has a daughter and in 1957 a son.


Yue is in the upper crust but Mao’s revolution is not over. Not all the intellectuals have accepted his ideas and goals. He decides to weed out the unbelievers. When his Anti-Rightist Campaign begins in the summer of 1957, Yue Daiyun heads a four-person faculty committee to provide evidence against any department members who should be denounced as “bourgeois rightists.” They are expected to find a certain number of such people among their colleagues. Her committee sets to work scrutinizing everyone’s statements in earlier discussions about how to improve things, and duly comes up with five names. A real witch hunt in action! But as chief inquisitor, Yue betrays no qualms about framing her well-intentioned colleagues, who obviously have no rights except to be victimized. She remarks that “singling out incriminating sentences…is how guilt was established at that time.” Such a blatant confession (by American standards) gives the reader confidence in the general validity of her account of herself.

In January 1958 Yue is herself a victim. “Now it was my turn,” she says. She has come from an undoubted bourgeois background and has still some liberal proclivities which cannot be offset by her devotion to the Party and Chairman Mao. Thus she is vulnerable to attack by ambitious younger aspirants for upward mobility. On specious charges she is judged guilty as a “rightist,” expelled from the Party and indeed from “the people” as their enemy. Her children may expect to be stigmatized and underprivileged ever after. Suddenly she is ostracized. Old friends don’t know her. She is a pariah.

Sent to a village to help build a reservoir, she learns fast—first, how to carry eighty-five-pound loads of rocks down from the mountain. Second, how to lie. A friend counsels her, “Now we are enemies of the Party, we must admit we are guilty.” This will “help the Party by confirming the correctness of its policy.” Yue is at first revolted by this expedient dishonesty but she quickly learns to live by it. Another rule she learns is that before the all-powerful authority of the Party, the overriding necessity is to preserve yourself. To help others, even to talk, will endanger you.

After two years’ manual labor among the peasants she comes back to Beida in a minor teaching position. When the Cultural Revolution erupts in 1966 she is again a target and is denounced by the Red Guards. As late as 1969 to 1971 she is a laborer building the Beida-Qinghua cadre school on the barren shore of Lake Poyang south of the Yangtze. By this time she has learned all about carrying water and refuse, making bricks, using bamboo, and eating rough peasant food. This repeated experience of adversity, from which she returns each time to resume academic work, makes her an insider in the revolutionary struggle by which Chairman Mao is trying to bring worker-peasant-soldier students into universities so that higher education will cease to be a monopoly of the upper class.

Yue Daiyun has found that to get along, you go along. She sees injustice on all sides, but keeps her head down, works hard, and earns approval. Quite contrary to her personal convictions she delivers lectures in support of Chairman Mao’s literary line or whatever else is the Party policy of the moment. She feels compassion for the suffering of others but her outraged feelings must be kept to herself. She is nonideological but conscientiously obedient. She confesses to guilt she never feels and to crimes she never committed. The normal collectivism of Chinese life as well as the emotional intensity of the revolution sweep her along. The Red Guard or the village cadres or the military in charge of the cadre school may all make egregious mistakes and commit obvious injustices but there is no recourse except to bear it in silence. One feels that this low standard of moral life is part of China’s general poverty.

As the kaleidoscopic chaos of the GPCR unfolds, Yue keeps on working hard (she is in her thirties and healthy) and coping with shifting doctrines and factions, but gradually loses her faith. The two constant motifs running through Yue’s mind are first her trepidation about what may happen next and second her intense concern for the advancement of her children. To secure their entrance to university she uses all possible connections in the commonly accepted Chinese manner. She gets a contact to introduce her to a member of the admissions committee and other top authorities to whom she takes lavish presents as part of the customary lubrication of interpersonal relations when asking favors. Her struggle is so successful that by 1984 her daughter is pursuing a graduate degree in computer science and living with her husband in New York City, while her son is studying for a Ph.D. in physics and living with his wife in New York State.


Yue’s husband is one of those facile intellectuals who are picked up by political leaders to be proponents of their policies. But Tang Yijie suffers from poor timing; by 1965 he is close to the Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping leadership just before they become targets of the Cultural Revolution. At its end, however, he is one of a select group of professors used as a brain trust and writing staff by the Gang of Four just before their fall. Yet he survives and becomes chairman of Chinese literature at Beida.

Yue had a much harder time of it. One is impressed by her capacity for hard and steady physical labor as well as the optimism with which she continually rises above things to see new hope for China. However by the time Mao dies in 1976 the attack on bureaucratic tyranny has led only to new and more tyrannical bureaucrats. The effort to bring worker-peasant-soldier students into universities runs aground on their lack of academic preparation. She and her colleagues are constantly setting out to create a new educational system but they can never decide what it should be. After some years of frustration the examination system is reinstituted and China is back on the track of producing an elite to govern the masses.

Between 1981 and 1984 Yue spends a year at Harvard and two years at Berkeley. There she begins collaboration with Carolyn Wakeman who records her unusually outspoken reminiscences and has done a fine job of synthesizing them. Yue goes over a couple of drafts to fill in lacunae. The final draft is edited by John S. Service and published after Yue’s return to Peking. (Thus she cannot be held responsible.) We are indebted to the appalling honesty of her account.

While Yue Daiyun’s story comes from the establishment, Liang Heng’s Son of the Revolution* recounted the rise of a resourceful young man from the lower level of the upper class. The book was invaluable because Liang Heng could describe his feelings at every stage, and his wife, Judith Shapiro, could understand his Chinese and help him put it into vigorous English. The two authors are outspoken people in the best tradition of their origins in Hunan and New York City. The wisdom of the Deng Xiaoping regime is evident in the fact not only that Deng himself intervened to let this Sino-American marriage occur in the first place, but also that he did not take offense at the book the marriage produced. Liang and Shapiro were allowed to return in 1985 and visit many of the places and people that figured in their book as well as to discover new places and people. After the Nightmare is the second half of a during-and-after account of the revolution.

Liang’s first concern on returning to Changsha was his father, a former editor of the Hunan Daily who had kept his faith in the Party almost to the end of the Cultural Revolution and was now ending his days close to the newspaper that he had helped to found. One of his colleagues, now once again a reporter for the paper, has succeeded in denouncing a network of ultra-leftists who had tortured and murdered writers, artists, and journalists during the Cultural Revolution. Thwarted at first, this colleague had finally got help from Peking, which was trying to rid the Party of just such people. Journalism seemed once again on the front line of reform.

Liang and Shapiro caught up with the careers of several friends. One composer, superenthusiastic about the revolution, had been attacked by the Gang of Four and spent five years in solitary in the top political prison. Now he was back composing music for the Changsha TV station. He remained devoted to the Chinese Communist party as the only hope for leading China forward although he was thoroughly disillusioned with Mao’s strategy of “mass political mobilization” as the way to achieve social change. Another man who had been active with Liang in the democracy movement at the university in the late 1970s had been sent to a labor camp but came out of it to be an entrepreneur in the sale of art works. The ultra-leftists of the Cultural Revolution era still tyrannized over Liang’s old department at the university, but they could not stem the tide of reform all around them.

One of the most revealing episodes occurs when Liang and Shapiro take a bus south and then walk along muddy paths for three hours to reach the distant and secluded production team where Liang and his father had been quartered when they were sent down to the countryside. In this village of the Guo family there has been little change—more children, little material improvement, still no electricity. But certain changes were important: the earlier worship of Chairman Mao had been supplanted by a return to the ancestral tablets. A few transistor radios had been acquired. Most important, the new “responsibility system” in agriculture had let the peasants produce everything possible and keep much of it to raise their living standard, with many pigs and chickens and plenty of grain. At first they had been afraid to go against the teachings of the Cultural Revolution. “But for thousands of years orders had come from above, and for thousands of years the peasants had obeyed. This time, as they did so, they discovered that the new system worked to their advantage.” They did not have to fear beatings by the cadres nor did they have to march into the fields at dawn. Their chief problem was how to get their excess products into the market economy.

From this backwater, so little changed, Liang and Shapiro take us next to a new coastal city where they meet some of China’s inside planners attending a conference. Liang is allowed in not only through a lucky “connection” but also as editor of his Chinese-American magazine, The Chinese Intellectual. He finds this group of young reformers, all victims of the Cultural Revolution, were mainly graduates of Peking University with a background in science, a group who could work together and were united in their belief that China’s rebuilding must be gradual and begin with the economy. Like statecraft scholars of earlier times they were experimenting with the administrative methods that might reduce ideology and increase efficiency. For example, they had introduced the election of the managers of enterprises, a practice now being followed throughout China. As one of them said, “After Liberation, the Party locked all the doors and windows and sat in the stifling darkness, congratulating themselves on China’s greatness. Almost thirty years later, the windows have opened.” Unfortunately the “centralized Leninist system of rule by a Party elite fit in all too well with Chinese feudalism, and brought out China’s strongest anti-democratic totalitarian tendencies.” Reform in China in the 1980s was still a political struggle to improve the performance of the officials and Party leaders who ruled the country. Many times in the past Chinese reformers had used Confucian teachings to try to renew the commitment of the elite. This was still the great issue of bureaucratic government—how could the rank and file be inspired to work for the state and the people, not for themselves and their families? Marxism and class struggle were not the essential issues.

Making stops in the southwestern and less-developed province of Guizhou, the Liangs succeed in staying in “private hostels,” so named by their owners as new enterprises. They talk with people along the streets, on buses, in restaurants, and generally find people interested in the outside world and curious about them as harbingers of it. No one seems to take Chairman Mao very seriously any more, or class struggle. The more vigorous are developing their small restaurants or trading enterprises.

The most formidable and dismaying entrepreneur they meet is the daughter of a prominent general, who is using her connections to carve her way into business deals while receiving not only first-class treatment and deference from everyone around but also making money in the process. She is tall, vigorous, well-dressed, demanding, and loud of voice. On the strength of her father’s position, she is profiting from trade between the special economic zones and the interior. She profits mainly from currency exchange. Her company is tax free. In general the reformers’ efforts to bring in new blood to take the place of the Soviet-trained administrators have opened the door for an arrogant and corrupt generation of the children of Long March veterans and high officials. Their “black door” manipulations are again soiling the Party’s image.

Liang and Shapiro end their exploration of the back country by traveling through small towns in Shensi by bus and train, stopping sometimes with peasants who take them in. They find a universal distrust of the Party and government officials in charge, who profit handsomely from their positions and can easily defend themselves by accusing any accusers. The corruption of “connections” and “face” seems as widespread as ever. They are themselves already experienced in going through the “back door” with gifts and bribery or threats of trouble from higher connections. Their disillusionment is complete when they reach the model town of Dazhai, which had once been advertised all over China by the phrase “Learn from Dazhai” written on walls throughout the countryside. It had turned out that this model operation, an example of selflessness, had been partly faked. (When some of us foreigners saw it in the 1970s, still attracting thousands of Chinese busloads of observers from other areas, it was already a fake.)

Their final encounter is with a man in Peking who is going daily to look after his old teacher, now in his last years and without any family. The young man, though acting like his son, proves not to be. He is taking care of his old teacher simply because he had beaten the man during the Cultural Revolution and feels he still has to make amends.

Liang and Shapiro conclude that the Deng reform program is the only way China can go, but it remains a question whether the Chinese people have learned that the Maoist exhortations “Put politics in command” and “Never forget class struggle” were essentially evil and destructive. They tore up the fabric of Chinese society without creating a new order to put in its place.

Another book by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro, Warm Winds, Cold Winds, is a clear-cut factual account of the liberalization of Chinese political life in the early 1980s followed by the brief onset of the campaign against Spiritual Pollution in late 1983. It chronicles the stages by which ultra-leftists tried to revive the spirit of the Cultural Revolution by attacking Western influences and other evils during the early period of the Deng reforms. The second part of the book, based on a three-months’ return to China in 1985, presents a much more encouraging picture of the intellectuals’ freedom of expression. Indeed Liang and Shapiro find a great many freedoms beginning to flourish—freedom to travel, freedom to choose one’s occupation and residence, freedom to express oneself to a greater degree in art and letters. However in order to maintain its power the Chinese Communist Party laid down in 1979 the Four Basic Principles: namely, acceptance of Marxism-Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought, the people’s democratic dictatorship, the leadership of the Party, and the push toward socialism. This orthodoxy, reminiscent of earlier dynasties’ efforts to preserve their power, puts a sometimes low ceiling over the new freedoms. As the political wind blows warmer or cooler this ceiling may rise or fall. Chinese intellectuals have had long experience in adjusting themselves to it. Thus the situation to most Chinese seems much improved, although Americans may not be so much impressed by it.

In comparison with the drastic action and telling incidents of these first-person accounts, an academic analysis of the historical significance of the Deng reforms may seem less than stimulating. Yet professors do have their uses and in fact usually have the last word. Tang Tsou, a leading political scientist at the University of Chicago, has been devoted to fashioning the theory and theoretical models that will tie together the events of history. He practices a universal science in which the Chinese revolution is only one object of attention. The eight papers reproduced as chapters in The Cultural Revolution and Post-Mao Reforms were written in a sequence running from 1967 to 1983—two in the late Sixties, two in the mid-Seventies and four in the early Eighties after the author revisited China in 1980. While summarizing the factual developments in Chinese politics, Professor Tsou’s special ability is to point out how the theories of the Chinese communists and of outside political scientists have been continually modified in order to describe the facts. The result is something like a biography of one political scientist’s theoretical formulations over an eighteen-year period. There is a refreshing “presentness” each time Professor Tsou gets a new fix on the Chinese situation, even though his emphasis on theory means that there is less attention to the personal feelings people had when they were beating their victims or being beaten as victims.

In the late Sixties when Mao was riding high, Tsou had to address himself mainly to what Mao said and its implications—how Mao made himself the sole origin of truth, how his persistent attack on the Party establishment and the intellectuals brought China nearer and nearer to what he calls a “revolutionary-‘feudal’ totalitarianism” during the decade of the Cultural Revolution. Professor Tsou sees the Deng reforms since 1978 as an epoch-making reversal of the long-continued effort of the Chinese state to penetrate the society. A “post-totalitarian” period of institution building is under way as the Party seeks self-restraint and self-limitation without losing final authority. The effort, Tsou writes, is led by extraordinarily experienced men who first fought oppression, then became themselves oppressors, but in turn suffered oppression before coming back into power. They have seen “the political system they created both from the top and from the bottom, from the inside and from the outside, as its beneficiaries and as its victims.” This is an experience Mao never had and may make Deng a greater hero than Mao in China’s history.

The Deng leadership are now more interested in law, order, and technology necessary for modernization. They are leaving “class struggle” along and letting social change come gradually along with economic growth. Yet the inequalities of special privilege for Party members and foreigners and of wealth for smart entrepreneurs and again accumulating, while the amazing Chinese capacity for lemming-like popular mobilization is still there awaiting some future occasion. Another cultural revolution is not in prospect, nor is another Mao. But as China’s public life continues its tidal fluctuations, nationwide reform movements may be expected.

This Issue

July 17, 1986