Shrewsbury School

Bastille Society Lecture - Mao's Cultural Revolution

Tuesday 24 April 2018

The Bastille Society's final lecture for this year was given by Professor Yang-Wen Zheng, a leading historian on Chinese history, and explored the complex political, social and economic issues in Communist China and Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Due to the relatively contemporary nature of the period, along with limited archival access provided by the Chinese government, the situation of China under Mao’s leadership was still ambiguous and perplexing. However, drawing from a wide range of sources, from exclusive photographs to recently conducted interviews, Professor Zheng provided a detailed analysis on the dynamics within Communist China.

Adopting a bottom-up approach, Professor Zheng argued that peasants were crucial in forming the final push that led to Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. By literally “pushing” resources across the countryside and soldiers to the front line, their use of guerrilla tactics triumphed over the conventional warfare of the Nationalists.

Yet Professor Zheng maintained that the stability after the Civil War was short-lived, as demonstrated by the failures of the Great Leap Forward in 1958-62, and the Cultural Revolution in 1966-76. This was largely due to Mao’s ideologically-bound leadership. His obstinacy in insisting on political correctness and the complete removal of the “Four Olds” resulted in widespread destruction and chaos, which ironically can be seen as a “great leap backwards”. Interestingly, in the midst of social deterioration, Professor Zheng suggested that perhaps there were improvements in women’s rights, evidenced through the abolishment of foot-binding practices and their increased political involvement through joining the Red Guards.

By depicting the diverse and complicated nature of Mao’s China, Professor Zheng’s compelling lecture was hugely popular, attracting not only Shrewsbury School historians, but also scientists and economists alike. We would therefore like to thank Professor Zheng once again for her fascinating lecture, providing a memorable conclusion to the series of Historical lectures this year.

Glory Chan (MSH UVI)



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