(My review on goodreads)
Kraus provides a nuanced and balanced description of the 10 years of the Chinese cultural revolution. He draws a sharp distinction between the chaos and violence of 1966-68, the period and events that most of us are aware of, and the period from 1968 until the death of Mao in 1976. The latter period began with a government crackdown on the Red Guards, and their dispersal to the countryside where they could make themselves useful and stop disrupting urban life.
Kraus walks a line between dispassionate description of the cultural revolution, its origins, practices, and results on the one hand, and mild criticism on the other. His goal in this book seems to be to get readers to go beyond a superficial impressionistic view of the cultural revolution, and to understand that it wasn’t the utterly horrible disaster that it is often portrayed as.
Nonetheless, it was pretty disastrous. And in the aftermath, after the arrest and conviction of the “Gang of Four”, the Communist Party scathingly denounced the cultural revolution as a mistake, and attributed that mistake entirely to Mao Zedong. Convenient, I suppose, for the many other party and state officials who promoted, or failed to work against, the excesses of the early cultural revolution.
Kraus shows that, except for 1966/67 and 1976, periods of great political turmoil, the Chinese economy grew at a respectable rate, so the cultural revolution was not an unmitigated disaster for the economy. And in many ways the work and the innovations during the cultural revolution laid the groundwork for the later liberal transformation of the economy.
There was destruction of cultural artifacts, but nothing like the amount that is generally conceived. Afterwards, the government took steps to return cultural and personal items to their rightful owners, and government troops protected the most valuable artifacts from destruction during the early chaotic period of the cultural revolution.
In all, this is a very worthwhile read.