Universiteit Leiden

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The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976

  • Prof. Frank Dikötter
Tuesday 7 February 2017
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden
Small auditorium
Prof. Frank Dikötter


Frank Dikötter will be awarded an honorary doctorate on 8 February, during the Dies Natalis. On 7 February, he will give a lecture on the Cultural Revolution in China. The lecture is open to anyone who wishes to attend, but attendees are requested to register in advance.

After the disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962, the ageing Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy.

The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalist elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology.  But Mao also used the campaign to pit people against each other and prevent his colleagues from ever turning against him.

Young students formed Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semi-automatic weapons in the name of revolutionary purity. As the country descended into chaos, the military intervened, turning China into a garrison state marked by bloody purges that crushed as many as one in fifty people.

When the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution in 1971, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the market and hollow out the party’s ideology. In short, they buried Maoism. As evidence from the party archives shows, the spread of basic economic freedoms from below was an unintended consequence of a decade of state-sponsored violence and entrenched fear.

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