The Chinese Cultural Revolution presents an internecine mass conflict that boasts the largest political upheavals of the 20th century. Insurgent students and workers formed various revolutionary rebel organizations in the summer of 1966, and took over government offices in virtually every provincial-level unit in January 1967. Immediately afterwards, these insurgents broke into rival factions that violently fought with one another in schools, factories, and neighborhoods, leading to anarchy in large parts of China until late 1968. Even in the periphery rural areas where the reach of the state was limited because of the existence of the “honeycomb polity,” political impulses did not weaken. Village residents also extensively involved themselves in the local mass conflicts and many people were killed or wrongly persecuted in factional warfare. Conservative estimates based on official sources suggest that up to 1.5 million people died in these factional conflicts and related repression, and some 36 million suffered arrest, imprisonment, lengthy interrogation, and often torture.
The enduring explanatory puzzle of this intense factional politics lies in the mechanisms and processes of insurgents’ political choice. Continue reading