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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shandong Province County Prospers in the "Lost Decade"
The standard image of the Cultural Revolution is red guard hooliganism, economic disruption, factional wars, violent army repression, closed schools, extreme emperor worship, persecution of intellectuals, and ideological rigidity. These are all true, for most areas and in certain periods of the CR. However, there was a wide variety of experiences, and all such experiences...
Published on December 11, 2008 by Brian K. Turner

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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Odd perspective on a period marked by poverty, lawlessness and violence
Even if Jimo County's economy grew as quickly during the Cultural Revolution as the author claims it did, the average growth of GDP for the entire nation during the decade of 1966-1976 as calculated by reputable economists such as Yasheng Huang was merely between 1% and 2%, and most of the population lived at or below the poverty level. Moreover, as a single-party...
Published 22 months ago by Harvy Lind


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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shandong Province County Prospers in the "Lost Decade", December 11, 2008
This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
The standard image of the Cultural Revolution is red guard hooliganism, economic disruption, factional wars, violent army repression, closed schools, extreme emperor worship, persecution of intellectuals, and ideological rigidity. These are all true, for most areas and in certain periods of the CR. However, there was a wide variety of experiences, and all such experiences must be examined for an all-around accurate perception of this tumultuous period. This volume is an account of an altogether different Cultural Revolution period experience.

In this Shandong county, where the author grew up (eventually coming to the US for a Ph.D. in political science), the Cultural Revolution was not "10 lost years" at all, but rather a period that saw substantial gains in educational opportunity and economic development.

The author argues that the advances in education in his village during the CR and a change in the local political culture facilitated economic development; i.e. the three cannot be disentangled.

Traditionally, he argues, China's political culture was one of "officialdom", where local officials had unchecked power and peasants felt powerless and thus were politically passive. One might cite the occasional peasant rebellions in Chinese history as point of balance (there are likely subtler ways of resistance as well). He argues that the traditional education system's bias against peasants, which continued after the establishment of the PRC, helped stabilize this political culture by keeping the peasants ignorant.

In this village, when the "serve the people" communist guerrillas (who had received enthusiastic support from Shandong peasants during the wars against the Japanese and Nationalists) became the new rulers after 1949, they -- having no constraints on their power -- gradually abandoned their war time populist ways and adopted the old "officialdom" ways. Han argues that a major purpose behind the many campaigns from 1953-1965, many of which had vague anti-corruption tags, was to challenge continuing "officialdom". But these campaigns were successfully steered away from the practitioners of officialdom and often towards scapegoats, often supposed "class enemies". These pre-Cultural Revolution campaigns, and their alleged failures are quickly brushed over; more detail can be found on the "Four Clean-Ups" for instance in other village studies like _Chen Village_, _Shenfan_, _Chinese Village, Socialist State_, _The Spiral Road_, _Cadres and Kin_, _Red Earth_). Han argues that the Cultural Revolution was Mao's last major attempt to root out the culture of officialdom and establish a new political culture where the peasants would be empowered to challenge the village elite, and this time it worked, in this particular area, thanks to the actions of CR inspired local rebels.

Han also has chapters detailing the reforms in education, which widely increased both access (especially to girls) and the applicability of the curriculum to local development needs.

The attempts to move to the general, away from the experience of this county raise questions. How typical is this positive experience? It's hard to say, except more likely to have occurred in the north. Some village studies indicate the Cultural Revolution was not the kind of bottom-up populism as described here, but rather horizontal factional jostling for power (e.g. William Hinton's _Shenfan_). We know from Andrew Walder and Yang Su's extensive examination of county annals (China Quarterly, March 2003) of the sobering level of violence inflicted in the 1968-71 period, often the army and party crushing rebel groups, which the "establishment radicals" (see Peter Moody -- Journal of Contemporary China, Fall 1993) were either unwilling or unable to stop. China is so large and complex there is no one-size-fits-all description. Nevertheless, Han's home county experience at least shows the potential of mass education and populist politics to facilitate equitable rural development, and needs recording as one of the varied experiences of the Cultural Revolution.

Han goes on to point out how the reforms have rolled back many of the achievements in rural education during Cultural Revolution years, failed to maintain equity (an important value for Chinese peasants), and also brought back the familiar officialdom style of rule. A case could be made that Han underemphasizes the overall nationwide problems with Cultural Revolution (doubtlessly influenced by his own county's success), and does not give enough praise to the reforms' positive aspects (ex: much more freedom for locals to grow what they want, and market it at fair prices). But just as the reformers were right to blame the Cultural Revolution for ideological extremism and intolerance and the many problems that caused, the reformers should be called to answer why they have not extended or in some cases even maintained the social justice gains of the previous period. Unfortunately, voices like Han's are usually left out of the debate on rural policy in China, because they challenge the official view, and vested interests.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strong addition to any history collection focusing on China, January 16, 2010
This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution is often quoted as one the great travesties of the 20th century. "The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village" brings another perspective of the Cultural Revolution, the rapid change it brought to the rural farmers of China, and how it was for the better. Bringing another perspective of something so often completely condemned, "The Unknown Cultural Revolution" is a strong addition to any history collection focusing on China.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not Fanshen, nor Fenshan, but Still Important, May 22, 2009
By 
Richard J. Gibson (san diego, california United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
Those interested in what it is that forges class consciousness (in the midst of our current international war of the rich on the poor, where the rich use their governments as executive committees and armed weapons and the children of the poor go off to kill the poor of other nations on behalf of the rich in their homelands--the rich being fully class conscious and the poor not so much) and what the relationship is of social inequality and education, should pay attention to this first effort from Dongping Han and hope for even more. Granted, this is not William Hinton, but it is a contemporary effort to demonstrate that what the Chinese "Communist" government says about the Cultural Revolution simply does not make good sense, that equality and economic development are not contradictory, nor are education and equality at odds. I hope Han finds a lot of readers who also check out his nice concluding bibliography. The struggle continues....
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5.0 out of 5 stars Highly impressive. I never came close to understanding the ..., November 30, 2014
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Highly impressive. I never came close to understanding the motives behind the Cultural Revolution until I read this book. Objective, meticulously researched (I think it began life as a thesis) and above all not as sensationalised as many other histories of this period.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Of Global Relevance, May 19, 2014
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This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
Dongpin Han's revisionist (save the irony) look at China's Cultural Revolution is a much-needed review of an era officially demonized in both modern China and the larger world. The prevailing consensus of convenience portrays Mao's GPCR as an economic and political disaster that retarded economic growth and political maturity through excessive egalitarianism and collectivism. The period's pervasive image is one of frenzied juvenile delinquents waving Little Red Books, forcing ordinary citizens to "go on red", destroying cultural monuments, beating up their elders and teachers, and battling each other in mass gang wars. Dongping Han, unlike most observers, grew up in rural China at the time, and was in a position to see a much different side. Westerners might be forgiven their ignorance of "the unknown Cultural Revolution," but not Chinese officials. Dongpin Han challenges not only their elitism, which motivated their discrediting of grass roots development, but the dominant global market dogma that development and social equality are by nature mutually exclusive. This is what makes his study of great relevance to not only modern China but the rest of the developing world.

Dongping Han quantitatively shows how education, political responsibility, and basic industry developed in his home region by bottom-up, grass roots mobilization, which removed corrupt officials, empowered ordinary citizens to speak their minds through "big character posters," brought technical education to country youth, and provided basic social service support. Rather than create a "global village," the Cultural Revolution sought to make a full life accessible to real village people. The author does not excuse the extremes of the period, as some allege. But he encourages us to see beyond the stereotype, and reminds us that discrediting the Cultural Revolution was a political "struggle" in its own right by self-interested parties, seeking to restore and retrench lost privileges by attacking the very idea of social equity and collective action.

I will challenge him on a couple points which stop my hand from giving the book five stars. He writes of a "culture of submission" in rural China which reinforced the class domination of the village. While the author certainly knows rural China better than I do, the idea sounds as fishy as a "culture of poverty," and is belied by the very evidence he presents. The submission of ordinary people is largely role-playing, as we see every day in our own jobs and official interaction. Once freed from imposed constraints we also see these deference patterns are not deeply ingrained at all. Such "culture" is, then, a construct contingent on continued external enforcement, not exactly a repressive psychological force in its own right. Similarly, the popular elan of "one for all" during the GPCR, while genuine, was also enforced by heavy social pressure. Participants who spoke a hard line, volunteering extra work and time, did so - as they later admitted - for status reasons, to deflect criticism, or just bent with the east wind to avoid the harsh punishment inflicted on the deviant.

But this did not detract from genuine development for the poor and neglected majority. The preceding Great Leap Forward, following Soviet-style collectivization, was a disaster that has ever after served Western critics as "proof" of socialist inhumanity. The Chinese Party itself learned its lesson. Reformers like Deng Xiaoping decided they must take the "capitalist road" or China would sink like a stone. Mao himself was too much the revolutionary to think inside the cold war's intellectual boxes. He opted for a third way, which offered (on its own terms) a form of democracy and development for China. Despite the official condemnation of resurgent restorationists, the Maoist era now looks idealistic and even naïve. Certainly the mindless urban speculation, massive unemployment and dislocation, pervasive corruption, and environmental degradation of "Reformed China" are no improvement over howling hordes of Red Guards. It was these same Maoist youth that evolved into modern dissidents; while residues of the period are still evident outside China, in the growth of paramedics or affirmative action programs. Those in the West denouncing China's current lack of democracy, while praising its market reforms and the class that promoted them, demonstrate that round-eyed obtuseness is still the prevailing condition among many China-watchers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hands-on and objective, August 23, 2013
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This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
book fills in many blanks as to how and why communism succeeded and failed in this dramatic human social experiment
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Challenge to the Commonly Accepted Views of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, October 9, 2014
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Straight Talk (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
Excellent Book! For anyone who wants a more accurate picture of the realities of the Chinese Cultural Revolution than what has come to be commonly accepted. It takes a big picture view and avoids the narrow pitfalls of the many history-through-memoir books on the subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION IN CHINA HAS BEEN MUCH MALIGNED BUT ..., October 12, 2014
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This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION IN CHINA HAS BEEN MUCH MALIGNED BUT HIS MAN LIVED THROUGH IT AND SHEDS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LIGHT.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Odd perspective on a period marked by poverty, lawlessness and violence, February 12, 2013
This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
Even if Jimo County's economy grew as quickly during the Cultural Revolution as the author claims it did, the average growth of GDP for the entire nation during the decade of 1966-1976 as calculated by reputable economists such as Yasheng Huang was merely between 1% and 2%, and most of the population lived at or below the poverty level. Moreover, as a single-party Leninist regime, the CCP Party-state has never been a democracy for a single day--there has never been a nationwide election of the country's leaders, who are instead chosen behind closed doors in Party meetings. Han's claim of "participatory democracy" is an inaccurate and selective description of a strongly authoritarian regime. Some readers will find this book interesting, nonetheless, as a reflection of a genuine nostalgia for the Mao Zedong Era found within various strata of PRC society; Han himself expresses a very negative view of Deng Xiaoping and other CCP leaders who rejected the overall direction of Mao's Cultural Revolution. Similarly, in Russia one can still find pockets of nostalgia for the iron-handed rule of Stalin, so we should not be surprised to find this in China as well. Yet most of the PRC intelligentsia is not nostalgic for the Cultural Revolution, for they are well aware of the chaos and violence it unleashed.
Readers interested in a more dispassionate and better researched account of the Cultural Revolution should read Macfarquhar and Schoenhals' Mao's Last Revolution (Harvard UP, 2006).
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1 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting version of history, January 23, 2011
By 
Adnil Nevets (Aiea, HI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Paperback)
The author's credentials are indisputable. He grew up in China and has an intimate knowledge of Chinese history and Mao's policies. But, his version of history does not agree with 99% of the academic community, and indeed, official Chinese history.
I would suggest that readers keep in mind that there were intelligent, well-educated, scientific and academic members of the Nazi party who were completely smitten with Hitler and defended him to their graves. Sometimes closeness to a historical event does not yield clarity of thought.
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The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village
The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village by Dongping Han (Paperback - December 1, 2008)
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