Legacies of Radicalism: China's Cultural Revolution and the Democracy Movement of 1989

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3 Scopus citations


Students in 1989 were at pains to distinguish their actions from those taken by students in the Cultural Revolution. Yet there were important similarities. In the present paper, we identify influence on the Democracy Movement from the Cultural Revolution through (1) the expansion and/or widespread familiarization of repertories of collective action available to Chinese activists; (2) precedents for collective action that may have lowered the barriers to action for some while raising them for others; (3) the participation of people at different stages of their lives in both movements; (4) the transformation of the significance of the ideas of democracy and political authority wrought by the Cultural Revolution for many Chinese; (5) the impact of the Cultural Revolution on Chinese intellectuals; (6) the material consequences of the Cultural Revolution which contributed to China's position in the post-Mao era and the specific issues reform and protest sought to confront; (7) the discourse of corruption which provided the 1989 movement with its strongest links between students and ordinary citizens, and which was accentuated in the Cultural Revolution; (8) the affirmation of the value of ordinary life by which students in the 1980s, encouraged by the ‘literature of the wounded’, rebelled against the Puritanism and denigration of ‘unauthorized’ personal relationships that had been characteristic of the Cultural Revolution; (9) the role of the Cultural Revolution as a cautionary tale, shaping the movement itself, inhibiting some older intellectuals from participating, and determining much of how the government viewed and responded to the Democracy Movement; and (10) the embeddedness in different ways of both Cultural Revolution and 1989 protests in an international context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-52
Number of pages20
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1999


  • China
  • Cultural Revolution
  • Tiananmen
  • protest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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