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The Cultural Revolution in the Countryside: Scope, Timing and Human Impact

  • Andrew G. Walder and Yang Su

Information extracted from 1,520 county annals published after 1987 is used to estimate the timing and impact of the Cultural Revolution in rural China. Outside observers initially concluded that the movement had little impact on remote rural regions, while early post-Mao revelations suggested that the opposite was the case. Adjusting for the tendency of shorter accounts to report fewer casualties, and with additional assumptions about under-reporting in the longer and more detailed accounts, the authors derive an estimated death toll of between 750,000 and 1.5 million, a similar number of people permanently injured, and 36 million who suffered some form of political persecution. The vast majority of these casualties occurred from 1968 to 1971, after the end of the period of popular rebellion and factional conflict and the establishment of provisional organs of local state power.

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We thank Songhua Hu, Tim Wai-keung Tam, Shinichi Tanigawa, Litao Zhao and Lu Zheng for their contributions to compiling the data archive employed in this article. The research was supported by grants from the Henry R. Luce Foundation and Stanford University's OTL Research Incentive Fund and Asia/Pacific Research Center. Michael Schoenhals and Yongyi Song kindly provided material from their personal collections. Jean Hung, Associate Director of the Universities Service Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, provided frequent assistance as we used that library collection over several years. Richard Baum, Michael Schoenhals and David Zweig provided helpful comments on an earlier draft.
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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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