(My review on goodreads)
In case you ever had the idea that the cultural revolution was somehow about eliminating the class enemies of the peasant and proletarian masses, you really ought to read this book. It will give you a clear idea of the cynical political machinations of Mao Zedong and his extraordinary ability to play off factions and strata of society against one another, all to ensure the continuation of the cult of personality that he had cultivated for decades. To call the years of the cultural revolution ‘chaotic’ would be to indulge in dishonest understatement. Mao managed to engineer an outright civil war.
As in the Great Leap Forward, the cultural revolution engendered famine, owing to the massive disruption of the economy - not on the same scale as the Great Leap, but famine nonetheless. And, too, having learned nothing from experience (or, more likely, not caring), Mao set China on another disastrous industrialization programme, in the form of the ‘Third Front’ - a harebrained scheme to build vast industrial complexes in the middle of the country, in case of invasion from the USSR. The diversion of capital and labor for this exercise drained needed resources away from areas where they might otherwise have been put to productive use.