Collective Killings in Rural China During the Cultural Revolution
By Yang Su
Cambridge University Press, 2011, 320 pp.
Su adds a new chapter to the doleful register of twentieth-century mass killings by revealing the previously unknown story of some 1.5 million innocent deaths that occurred in China’s rural villages in 1967–68. The Cultural Revolution was not just an urban phenomenon, as previously believed. People classified as coming from bad “class backgrounds” were murdered in groups, often whole families at a time, in front of mass meetings. The slaughter was especially intense in Guangdong and Guangxi, southern provinces with histories of clan conflict. The perpetrators were “ordinary men,” anxious to demonstrate their fealty to Mao’s line on class struggle and filled with panic about a supposed counterrevolutionary conspiracy that had in fact been fabricated by the leaders in Beijing. Although the state did not carry out the killings or order them, it created the lawless environment that made them possible. Su tells a heart-rending story and contributes new insights to the burgeoning academic literature on contentious politics and genocide.