William Hinton, Shenfan: The Continuing Revolution in a Chinese Village (1983)
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On Shenfan: Mao, Rural Development, and Two-Line Struggle (This article was written as a foreword to the Chinese edition of Shenfan, which is the title of the second volume of the history of Long Bow Village, Shanxi Province, China. The first volume, Fanshen, told the story of the land reform that transformed the community between 1945 and 1948. Shenfan takes up the story with the organization of mutual aid leading first to lower and then to higher stage cooperation between 1948 and 1971, the year Hinton first returned to China after a U.S. government mandated absence of seventeen years.)
To the delight of many, William Hinton’s Shenfan arrived last Spring  and we could now follow the development of rural Long Bow village from where Hinton’s remarkable Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (Monthly Review Press) left us in 1948. In that first volume of this projected trilogy, Hinton chronicled the Fanshen (literally “to turn over”) of Long Bow peasants as they learned “to stand up, to throw off the landlord yoke, to gain land, stock, implements, and houses.” It is in Shenfan (literally “deep plowing”) that we can view the efforts to urge these giant changes forward as Hinton takes us through the far more complex history of these villagers from that year before New China’s existence to 1971, during the cooperative movement, the Great Leap Forward, and the Four Clean and Socialist Education campaigns.
To have these monumental social, economic, political, and educational movements that racked China for decades arranged here in one continual narrative is in itself greatly superior to the isolated accounts we typically receive. To have Hinton for our guide into the contending political meeting rooms, households, factories, farms, and the hearts and minds of the participating peasants provides unique access to how this history was made. Of necessity Shenfan is a far more demanding and ambitious work than Fanshen since it must analyze this socialist advance on its wounded battlefields, accepting the challenge of Fanshen to discover where, how, and if “the peasants were gradually learning the central lesson of our time, ‘that only through participation in common struggle can any individual achieve personal emancipation.’”
Here Hinton’s search is in fact a dual one; he plunges into rural China to force out socialism’s trail, and he plunges into himself, exhibiting a struggle with his own expectation that is heroic and totally devoid of sentimentality. In allowing the evidence of experience and report to weigh out over long-standing personal hopes as well as official rhetoric, Shenfan becomes a model of intellectual courage. It is a proud book which, like all art, creates its own compelling narrative, here formed by a rhythm of devotion, puzzlement, and despair, and an abiding optimism that is our most meaningful freedom. For ten years Hinton yanked his guts out over what he learned from many trips to Long Bow and elsewhere in China, and over how to convey all this with justice.
Edited by Gregor Benton and Lin Chun, Was Mao Really a Monster?: The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday’s “Mao: The Unknown Story” (2009)
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Complete Introduction at China Study Group
William Hinton: On the Role of Mao Zedong
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday was published in 2005 to a great fanfare. The book predictably portrays Mao as a monster – equal to or worse than Hitler and Stalin – and a fool who won power by native cunning and ruled by terror. It received a rapturous welcome from reviewers in the popular press and rocketed to the top of the worldwide bestseller list. Few works on China by writers in the West have achieved its impact. Reviews by serious China scholars, however, tended to take a vastly different view. Most were sharply critical, questioning its authority and the authors’ methods, arguing that Chang and Halliday’s book is not at all a work of balanced scholarship, as it purports to be, but a highly selective and blatantly revisionist polemical study that sets out to demonize Mao and the achievements of Chinese Socialism. This book brings together sixteen reviews of Mao: The Unknown Story – all by internationally well-regarded specialists in modern Chinese history – and published in relatively specialized scholarly journals. Taken together, they demonstrate that Chang and Halliday’s portrayal of Mao is in most places wholly inaccurate. While agreeing that Mao had faults and bears responsibility for some unfortunate policies, they conclude that a far more balanced picture is needed, thus providing one.
Edited by Zueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, and Bai Di, Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era (2001)
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What does it mean to have grown up female in the Mao era? How can the remembered details of everyday life help shed light upon those turbulent times? Some of Us is a collection of memoirs by nine Chinese women who grew up during the Mao era and now live in the United States. Each of the chapters is crafted by a writer who reflects back to that time in a more nuanced manner than has been possible for Western observers. The authors attend to gender in a way that male writers have barely noticed; they also reflect on their lives in the United States. The issues explored here are as varied as these women’s lives. The burgeoning rebellion of a young girl in northeast China. A girl’s struggles to obtain for herself the education her parents inspired her to attain. An exploration of gender and identity as experienced by two sisters. Some of Us offers insights into a place and time when life was much more complex than Westerners have allowed. These eloquent writings all but shatter stereotypes of persecution, repression, victims, and victimizers in Maoist China.
The depth of the Chinese social revolution, and the sheer number of people involved, is why the Cultural Revolution is the furthest advance toward communism in history. A quarter of the world stood up. China leaped from foot binding to the advanced practices of the Cultural Revolution. The Maoist movement in China was the greatest feminist movement of all time in terms of its impact on the status of women. However, analysis of gender in the Maoist era lagged behind practice. Some of the most advanced social experiments in gender equality in human history lacked an adequate theory as a guide. In the Maoist years, socialist moralism wielded as much, if not more, influence on the everyday than revolutionary science. Even so, the testimonies in Some of Us attest to the power of simple maxims and slogans such as “Times have changed. Men and women are the same. Whatever men can do, women can do, too.”
Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Educational Reforms and Their Impact on China’s Rural Development, 1966-1976 (2000)
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Most scholarship and popular writings about China’s Cultural Revolution focuses on urban areas. They also tend to have a negative assessment of the Cultural Revolution’s educational reforms and their impact on China’s economic development. This book, a case study of a rural county in China’s Shandong Province, provides important new evidence about the Cultural Revolution in China’s rural areas. The educational reforms associated with the Cultural Revolution led to vast education expansion, curriculum reform, and change of management styles of rural school system. Many rural children were able to attend village primary school, join village middle schools and commune high schools free of charge. The book also reveals that there is a direct connection between economic development and the practical education rural children received during the Cultural Revolution years. The book demonstrates that the rural population benefited from some of the important public policies of the Cultural Revolution. In Jimo County, the production increased tremendously. The book also argues that the Chinese government’s negation of Cultural Revolution public policies had some serious consequences for rural education and economic development in the long run.