Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Changing Face of China"

John Gittings is a writer on China and world affairs. His most recent book is The Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market, which Rana Mitter has called "The best single-volume history of the People's Republic of China from 1949 to the present."

I asked John to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:
China's students become a "vanguard force" on p.69 of my book at a critical moment in its modern history. It was the summer of 1966 at the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Nowadays the official Chinese line on the decade which followed till Mao's death is that it was "ten years of chaos" and there is nothing more to say. But I take seriously Mao's aim at the time to create "a new generation of 'revolutionary successors'," and I put it in the context of a tradition of student dissent, even rebellion, going back half a century. Hence the chapter title "The Rebel Alternative." Of course the idealistic strand in the Cultural Revolution was nullified by Mao's vicious score-settling with his critics, by the opportunists who jumped on the revolutionary band-wagon and by the ignorance and fanaticism of many Red Guards and Rebels themselves. Nor was it a spontaneous movement: I also describe on p. 69 how the Red Guards were launched at a meeting in Beijing University where the main speaker was connected to "Mao's secret policeman" Kang Sheng. But I go on to argue that the future democracy movement, leading right up to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, grew out of those frustrated ideals: very early on many young Chinese, adrift in this turbulent movement, began to ask the big question "Whither China" which is still being asked today.

[Excerpt from p.69]

Throughout the revolution, the students had never been more than an auxiliary force. In the Cultural Revolution of 1966-8 (the broader definition extending it to 1976 was only made retrospectively) they became the vanguard force. Already concerned to create a new generation of `revolutionary successors' which would steer China away from the revisionist trap into which the Soviet Union had fallen, Mao pinned his faith upon its youth. The Red Guards were loose groupings of college and secondary school students, formed initially to `struggle' against teachers and cadres in their own institutions but soon encouraged to act as the catalyst of a wider movement. Red Guards could be as young as 12 or as old as 30, but the majority were in their teens.
Many thanks to John for the input on his book.

Learn more about
The Changing Face of China here at the Oxford University Press website. Click here to read an excerpt.

Lucian W. Pye called The Changing Face of China
"a vivid history" in his review in Foreign Affairs:
Drawing on his firsthand experience, he recaptures the simultaneous absurdity and utopian idealism of the Mao era and depicts the conflicting sentiments of China-watchers as they observed the power struggles of that time.... Looking to the future, Gittings anticipates the gradual expansion of politics but not the disintegration of the party. He identifies economic problems, but none that will fundamentally threaten China's progress. He is most pessimistic about environmental degradation and the escalating demands of a growing population on an inadequate natural-resource base....
For selected newspaper articles by Gittings, click here; for journal articles, click here; for books and book chapters, click here.

His most recent article at the Guardian is about the career and funeral of Chinese democrat Lin Mu.

He wrote the chapter "What if Mao had met Roosevelt," in Duncan Brack ed., President Gore, and other things that never happened.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue