Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Joel Andreas: The Brief, Tumultuous History of "Big Democracy" in China's Factories

Comparing fateful experiments encouraging freewheeling criticism of Communist cadres in 1957 and 1966.

Fri, February 26, 2016 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118)

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Joel Andreas: The Brief, Tumultuous History of

This paper compares two fateful experiments conducted in China during the Mao era that encouraged freewheeling criticism of Communist cadres: the 1957 Party Rectification campaign and the early upheavals of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1968). Through a content analysis of articles published in the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, we first show that the two movements shared characteristics that made them very similar to each other and remarkably different from all other mass campaigns carried out during the Mao era. We then examine the differences between the two movements by investigating how they unfolded in factories, based on interviews with workers and party cadres. Key elements of the strategies Mao pursued during the Cultural Revolution, we argue, can be interpreted as responses to the unmitigated failure of the 1957 campaign. In comparing the two movements, we highlight the evolution of the term “big democracy,” which was uniquely associated with these two episodes, but was deployed very differently in the Cultural Revolution than it was in 1957.


Joel Andreas, Associate Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, studies political contention and social change in contemporary China. His book, Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class (Stanford, 2009), analyzes the contentious process through which old and new elites coalesced during the decades following the 1949 Communist Revolution. He is currently investigating changing labor relations in Chinese factories between 1949 and the present, as well as recent changes in agrarian society.

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