As a major political event and a crucial turning point in the history of the People’s Republic of China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) marked the zenith as well as the nadir of Mao Zedong’s ultra-leftist politics. Yang Jisheng here presents the only history of the Cultural Revolution by an independent scholar based in mainland China.
... detailed, deeply researched ... packed with detail, carefully tracking the moves and countermoves of bureaucrats and rebels, the frequent reversals of fortune that suddenly turned heroes into enemies and vice versa, the constant maneuvering in the corridors of power and Mao's fickle decision-making. In that sense, the book feels both authoritative and not for the faint of heart. Yang does not go out of his way to arrange the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution into an easy-to-digest narrative. Instead, he presents the facts and mostly lets them speak for themselves, only occasionally dropping in a personal anecdote ... Which isn't to say The World Turned Upside Down lacks perspective: Yang's careful accumulation of facts becomes a moral accounting, providing a model for how rigorous scholarship can penetrate ideology and arrive at something like the truth. The World Turned Upside Down may be the definitive account of a tragic historic episode.
A thick catalogue of gruesome atrocities, blunders, bedlam, and ideological dissimulation, by the Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng ... Yang’s book offers the most comprehensive journalistic account yet of contemporary China’s foundational trauma. Memoirs of the Cultural Revolution, first appearing in the nineteen-eighties, belong by now to a distinct nonfiction genre ... Yang provides the larger political backdrop to these granular accounts of cruelty and suffering. At the outset of the Cultural Revolution, he was studying engineering at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, and he was one of the many students who travelled around the country to promote the cause. In 1968, he became a reporter for Xinhua News Agency, a position that gave him access to many otherwise unreachable sources ... Yang describes, in often overwhelming detail, the intricate internal power struggle that eventually erupted into the Cultural Revolution—with Mao variously consulting and shunning a small group of confidants, including his wife, a former actress; China’s long-standing Premier, Zhou Enlai; and the military hero Lin Biao, who had replaced Peng Dehuai, a strong critic of Mao, as the Minister of Defense in 1959, and proceeded to turn the People’s Liberation Army into a pro-Mao redoubt ... Yang, although obliged to omit Xi’s personal trajectory—from son of Mao’s comrade to China’s supreme leader—nonetheless leaves his readers in no doubt about the 'ultimate victor' of the Cultural Revolution: what he calls the 'bureaucratic clique,' and the children of the privileged.
... unsparing ... Yang still dwells very much amid the trees, but he now brings vividness and immediacy to an account that concurs with the prevailing Western view of the forest ... Yang, who retired from Xinhua in 2001, didn’t obtain as much archival material for this book, but he benefited from the recent work of other undaunted chroniclers, whom he credits for many chilling new details about how the violence in Beijing spread to the countryside.