Weatherhead Workshop on Culture, History, and Society: The Revolutionary Ethic and the Spirit of Factionalism in the Chinese Cultural Revolution


Friday, September 29, 2017, 12:00pm to 2:00pm


William James Hall, Rm. 1550, 33 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA


Guobin YangGrace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania.


Yueran Zhang


Orlando PattersonFaculty Associate. John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Harvard University.

Daniel Lord SmailFrank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of History, Department of History, Harvard University.

Ya-Wen LeiAssistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Harvard University.


From 1966 to 1968, youth in urban China were embroiled in factional battles in what many of them believed to be a revolution of a lifetime. Based on the recently published book The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China (2016), this talk argues that factional violence was the result of the enactment of a hallowed revolutionary tradition. The mechanism of this enactment was political competition.  In a political process of ambiguity and uncertainty and a social context of domestic fears and international threats, individuals were compelled to show, through public performances of revolutionary faith, that they, not their rivals, were the true revolutionaries, "the elect." This conclusion has broader implications for understanding the role of political culture in processes of collective violence and social change.

See also: Workshop on Culture, History, and Society2017-2018