Raised to be “flowers of the nation,” the first generation born after the founding of the People’s Republic of China was united in its political outlook and at first embraced the Cultural Revolution of 1966, but then split into warring factions. Investigating the causes of this fracture, Guobin Yang argues that Chinese youth engaged in an imaginary revolution from 1966 to 1968, enacting a political mythology that encouraged violence as a way to prove one’s revolutionary credentials. This same competitive dynamic would later turn the Red Guard against the communist government.
Throughout the 1970s, the majority of Red Guard youth were sent to work in rural villages, where they developed an appreciation for the values of ordinary life. From this experience, an underground cultural movement was born. Rejecting idolatry, these relocated revolutionaries developed a new form of resistance that signaled a new era of enlightenment, culminating in the Democracy Wall movement of the late 1970s and the Tiananmen protest of 1989. Yang’s final chapter on the politics of history and memory argues that contemporary memories of the Cultural Revolution are factionalized along these lines of political division, formed fifty years before.