China's "Great Proletarian Information Revolution" of 1966-1967

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By the autumn of 1966, the PRC government had enjoyed seventeen years of uninterrupted and complete domestic information dominance. Independent collection of information was hampered by way of a CCP culture of secrecy and successfully enforced regimen of information curtailment. Of the changes in the political landscape triggered by Mao Zedong’s August 1966 decision to label part of government officialdom “reactionaries” and announce his “enthusiastic support” for those who cared to “rebel” against it, few proved in retrospect as important as the degrading of this information dominance. It led to the immediate empowerment of a broad spectrum of “mass” organizations who developed their own information collection, processing, and dissemination structures.

In the literature on how patterns from the past continue to impact contemporary China, when reference is made to the perceived legacies or echoes of the Cultural Revolution, it is always to “ever more simplistic slogans,” “violence and anarchy,” and the like. No mention is made of any of the above. At first, this appears puzzling, given that we in this digital age believe ourselves to have developed an unprecedented sensitivity to the informational aspects of just about everything—including the history of the PRC. Yet the most likely explanation is the same as with so many other facets of social history: there “simply is not a ready-made body of material about it” (Eric Hobsbawm). What I seek to do in this paper is remedy this frustrating state of affairs by bringing together the fragmented data that has survived and explore the unknown history of the information networks operated by non-state organizations in China’s Cultural Revolution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaoism at the Grassroots: Everyday Life in China's Era of High Socialism
EditorsJeremy Brown, Matthew Johnson
PublisherHarvard University Press
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

An earlier version of it was first presented at the University of Erfurt, Arbeitsstelle für Historische Anthropologie, in December 2005. This revised version draws on feedback received at a Lund University advanced seminar on media history, March 2010, and from my former student Fredrik Uddenfeldt.

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History and Archaeology

Free keywords

  • China
  • Cultural Revolution
  • Mao Zedong
  • information
  • communication
  • social organization


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