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Oral Histories of China’s Revolution by Jicai Feng

The book Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of China’s Cultural Revolution by Jicai Feng depicts political situation in China during the period of 1966-1976. The author presents information about the decade in the form of interviews (the book contains about 100 of them). This form of narration both demonstrates to a reader the cultural, political and economical situation of the Chinese Cultural Revolution period, and encourages him/her to asses provided data on his/her own. The author presented the interviews in the form of monologues forestalling them with brief information about interviewers’ age and occupation in 1966. This approach allows readers to percept the interviews as separate documentary stories; at the same time, the interviews do not provide only dry facts. In the Ten Years of Madness people tell about their lives, feelings, losses, hopes and disappointments. The book offers not only the cultural and political review of Mao Zedong’s actions and Cultural Revolution; it is also a collection of people’s destinies as well as the story of the fortune of the whole Chinese nation in 966-1976.

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Definitely, Mao Zedong had a great influence on Chinese people. He entered hearts and souls of enormous amount of Chinese people though they knew so little about his true self. When a person becomes an object of worship of a whole nation it often lead to substantial consequences. They did not like Mao Zedong they liked his ideal image which had been born in their minds. Still, this kind of attachment is one of the strongest ones. The story, entitled as Agony of Worship in the Ten Years of Madness tells us about the long way from pure worship of the political leader and his concerns to the critical attitude towards the events in the country.

The story tells us about a girl, who was a young student and red activist in 1966 and her beloved, a cadre of Writers’ Association in an unnamed city. They both worshiped Mao Zedong though, suffered from the revolution terror. The girl survived and told the author their story, describing her attitude towards the politician in 1966: “worship is the act of giving your heart and soul to the person worshipped. If it is too easily offered up or carelessly lost by the worshipped, all that remains of the worshipper is an empty shell” (Feng, 1996, p. 10). Reading her story and many other stories from the book one may understand that the Mao cult did not accept any critical thinking about its leader. Mao Zedong was too high above simple people they did not even think that he might have been wrong. Injustice could not be his fault; at the same time, people had a scapegoat – counter-revolutionaries who were chased by politically loyal red people. At the same time, fanaticism developed and very often red comrades also suffered. Many officials used their power for revenge as well as for turning a situation to their account. It was very difficult to avoid delations, as long as when one part of the country was played off against another people forgot about rules of peaceful times. In fact, totalitarian regime is singled out with such peculiar features as well-developed system of denunciations gathering, shadowing and exiles.

A girl, who told the Agony of Worship story, had lost her husband, passé through persecution, was exiled to a remote plays to teach in a peasant school. She lost respect of her friends and acquaintances and witnessed terrible unfairness concerning many people she loved. Still, teaching in the school for peasants, she woke her pupils up early in the morning at five and “led them to the empty playground, where all of us would… hold up our Little Red Books as high as we could in a salute to Chairman Mao. I have to confess, I felt this to be a sacred mission” (Feng, 1996, p. 123). The narrator fully rejected the idea of Mao’s accusation for all her sufferings. The image of the politician remained stainless.

In fact, Feng’s book does not tell Mao’s biography or analyzes of his regime. It just shows us what people thought about the situation in the country and how they percepted it and Mao’s image. The politician was interpreted not like a flesh and blood man he was taken as a godlike figure. The book provides a very useful data at first hands, that allow a reader to assess not only dry facts and figures. Analyzing the stories, provided in the Ten Years of Madness, one may feel the reasons which led to the terror of Cultural Revolution and to the appearance of such a powerful phenomenon, as the cult of a Chairman Mao.


Feng, J., 1996. Ten years of madness: oral histories of China’s Cultural Revolution. South San Francisco: China Books.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Oral Histories of China’s Revolution by Jicai Feng'. 16 December.

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