Journalist Yang Jisheng has bravely covered abuses in China for almost 60 years. He graduated from college in 1966 just as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was beginning to convulse his country. In America, the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath are remembered for the antic words and phrases which have become part of our language—Capitalist Roaders, Little Red Book, Red Guards, Gang of Four. But it is also notorious for its images of students and supporters running amok, trashing college campuses and government offices, humiliating, maiming, and murdering teachers and officials, and driving others to suicide. These atrocities were inspired by a vaguely defined ideology called the Thought of Mao Zedong, encouraged and enabled by the man himself.

At the time these crimes were properly likened to the Hitler Youth rampages. Today, however, references to mid-’60s China have become a shorthand and unconsidered way of talking about the breakdown of civility, tolerance, and order on American campuses, and the outbreaks of violence in many American cities. China’s Cultural Revolution doubtless provides a cautionary tale, but such comparisons are both too pat and cloud our appreciation of the true horror.

In Tombstone (2012) Yang wrote the definitive account of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” famine of the 1950s (see my review of it: “Blood-soaked

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