The grassroots turmoil in China’s cultural revolution: a half-century perspective

After Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966, vast numbers of students, workers, peasants and other ordinary people divided into hostile groups that violently fought against each other for more than a year and a half. Each group claimed it was fighting out of loyalty to Mao’s teachings. But research by the speaker that included well over a hundred in-depth interviews in the 1970s and 1980s with former participants in these conflicts revealed that the fighting between groups was actually the consequence of mounting tensions within Chinese society prior to the Cultural Revolution. The upheavals in the Cultural Revolution pitted those who had earlier been favoured by Communist Party policies against those who had been disfavoured. But the nature of grievances and antagonisms differed from group to group—be they students, workers, peasants or government office workers. As a result, there were a number of different types of upheavals, generated by different reasons, in different sectors of society. Examining these provides insights into the complex fabric of Chinese society under Mao.

This lecture is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served from 5:30pm.

Please RSVP ( by 27 October 2016.

About the Speaker

Jonathan Unger, a sociologist, is a professor at the Political and Social Change Department of ANU and Co-editor of The China Journal. He has published fifteen books and more than seventy refereed journal articles and book chapters about China. His books include Education under Mao: Class and Competition in Canton Schools (1982), The Transformation of Rural China (2002) and, as co-author, Chen Village: Revolution to Globalization (2009).

The George Ernest Morrison Lecture series was founded by Chinese residents in Australia and others in honour of the late Dr G. E. Morrison (1862-1920), a native of Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

The objects of the foundation of the lectureship were to honour for all time the memory of a great Australian who rendered valuable services to China and to improve cultural relations between China and Australia. The annual Morrison Lecture is organised by a committee of ANU colleagues from the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific.

The George E. Morrison Lecture Series is sponsored by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World.