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New Left Review 41, September-October 2006


Reflections on China’s ‘revolutionary century’, and roots of its state-party rigidification in the failures of the Cultural Revolution. What deeper dynamics of capitalist restoration link the contemporary neutralization of politics, east and west?

WANG HUI

DEPOLITICIZED POLITICS, FROM EAST TO WEST

Chinese commentators have been curiously absent from international discussions about the Sixties, despite the fact that the Cultural Revolution was so central to that tumultuous decade. [1] nlr and the author wish to thank Kuan-Hsing Chen, Chua Beng-Huat, Christopher Connery and the journal Inter-Asia Cultural Studies for kindly allowing the publication of this edited extract of ‘Depoliticized Politics’. The full text is published as ‘Depoliticized Politics, Multiple Components of Hegemony and the Eclipse of the Sixties’ in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 4, a special issue on the Asian Sixties edited by Christopher Connery. This silence, I would argue, represents not merely a rejection of the radical thought and practice of the Cultural Revolution but a negation of China’s whole ‘revolutionary century’—the era stretching from the Republican Revolution in 1911 to around 1976. The century’s prologue was the period running from the failure of the Hundred-Day Reform in 1898 to the 1911 Wuchang uprising; its epilogue was the decade from the late 1970s through to 1989. During this whole epoch the French and Russian Revolutions were central models for China, and orientations towards them defined the political divisions of the time. The New Culture movement of the May Fourth period championed the French Revolution, and its values of liberty, equality and fraternity; first-generation Communist Party members took the Russian Revolution as a model, criticizing the bourgeois character of 1789. Following the crisis of socialism and the rise of reform in the 1980s, the aura of the Russian Revolution diminished and the ideals of the French Revolution reappeared. But with the final curtain-fall on China’s revolutionary century, the radicalism of both the French and the Russian experiences had become a target of criticism. The Chinese rejection of the Sixties is thus not an isolated historical incident, but an organic component of a continuing and totalizing de-revolutionary process.

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