Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
If there’s ever been a book event to attend seeking clarity from its authors, the reading of Mao’s Last Revolution at Politics and Prose is it. That’s no knock on the authors’ abilities to write clearly and comprehensively. The book is an authoritative, blow-by-blow account of the Cultural Revolution from start to finish, constructed from pirmary sources by two premiere China scholars. But one is left wondering, What the hell just happened? Readers can take solace that they are not alone in this confusion: Already months into the revolution, write Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, a several-week conference was called for the purpose of…well, no one was really sure. “The conference was meant to resolve what was seen as a widespread ‘problem of understanding’: Officials everywhere either had never understood what the Cultural Revolution was about in the first place, or else had only a very partial or skewed understanding of Mao’s aims,” they write. Hindsight tells us little more. From the far left, the wisdom is that Mao’s aim was to destroy all remnants of bourgeois culture that lingered post-revolution and to eradicate new bourgeois tendencies that had arisen among the ranks of the fat and happy class of revolutionaries-cum-bureaucrats. To pull this off, he unleashed a chaos of rampaging teenagers throughout the country who would spark greater mayhem, very nearly bringing down the entire regime and ultimately stopping just short of Mao’s head. He died in 1976, shortly after the revolution petered out like the tail end of a child’s temper tantrum. Intended to stave off capitalist restoration, the revolution instead brought it about more quickly than it otherwise might have occurred—causing untold suffering on the way. MacFarquhar discusses and signs copies of Mao’s Last Revolution at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Ryan Grim)