By May 1966, just seventeen years after its founding, the People’s Republic of China had become one of the most powerfully centralized states in modern history. But that summer everything changed. Mao Zedong called for students to attack intellectuals and officials who allegedly lacked commitment to revolutionary principles. Rebels responded by toppling local governments across the country, ushering in nearly two years of conflict that in places came close to civil war and resulted in nearly 1.6 million dead.

How and why did the party state collapse so rapidly? Standard accounts depict a revolution instigated from the top down and escalated from the bottom up. In this pathbreaking reconsideration of the origins and trajectory of the Cultural Revolution, Andrew Walder offers a startling new conclusion: party cadres seized power from their superiors, setting off a chain reaction of violence, intensified by a mishandled army intervention. This inside-out dynamic explains how virulent factions formed, why the conflict escalated, and why the repression that ended the disorder was so much worse than the violence it was meant to contain.

Based on over 2,000 local annals chronicling some 34,000 revolutionary episodes across China, Agents of Disorder offers an original interpretation of familiar but complex events and suggests a broader lesson for our times: forces of order that we count on to stanch violence can instead generate devastating bloodshed.

The Stanford News Service spoke with Walder about the book. Read >> China’s Cultural Revolution was a power grab from within the government, not from without, Stanford sociologist finds

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SCPKU held its first graduate seminar in Summer 2013. Taught by Professor Richard Vinograd in Stanford’s Department of Art and Art History, the seminar was entitled “Site-Based Art Historical Research in China: Issues and Opportunities.” Professor Vinograd recently shared his perspectives on the course and his research on Chinese art history.


Question: Why did you decide to apply for SCPKU's Graduate Seminar Program? What did you hope to bring and learn in China as part of the program?

Vinograd: I applied to the SCPKU Graduate Seminar program for some of the unique advantages it offers. These include the opportunities for students to encounter works of art in their full physical and spatial environments. There is also the opportunity to interact with Chinese counterpart students and faculty, to better understand their approaches to research and historical scholarship, and to build useful relationships for the future. In turn, my students and I offered our own perspectives and approaches to Chinese art historical studies.


Question: Can you tell us a little about your research and its connection to China?

Vinograd: I am primarily an historian of Chinese art, focusing on Chinese painting and prints from the last millennium, up to the present. I have written focused studies of Chinese portraiture, landscape painting, and about a number of individual artists and themes. Most of my own research is based on objects in museums or other collections, but I've also written more generally about art in particular locations -- mural paintings in temples, architectural monuments and sculptural programs in cave shrines So I was particularly happy that during the summer program I was able to visit some sites that I hadn't directly experienced before.


Question: What did you learn during your stay in China? What were the most surprising/interesting things that you encountered?

Vinograd: I learn something new almost every time I encounter an original monument or work of art, no matter how familiar, and I try to impress upon my students the value of continued close examination and questioning of original monuments every chance they get. One of the most striking aspects of several of the ancient temples we visited was the discovery of calligraphic inscriptions on the undersides of roof cross beams, that documented episodes of repair and renovation to the buildings that were sometimes centuries old.


Question: Was this your first time taking students on an overseas course/field trip? Please share some of the challenges you may have encountered on your other trips (and/or this trip) and how you resolved them.

Vinograd: I've taken students on overseas field trips several times, to Japan, Taiwan, and China. Usually these have been to study especially rare and important exhibitions and attend associated scholarly conferences, sometimes with visits to archaeological, historical, or architectural sites included. Usually the challenges of such events are logistical and linguistic, including absorbing the content of lectures and discussions carried on in many different Chinese accents. Since the SCPKU seminar focused so heavily on site visits, we frequently had to negotiate access to normally restricted areas, or permission to illuminate and photograph murals in dimly-lit temple halls. Our colleagues from Peking University were especially helpful on those occasions.


Question: How was your experience at SCPKU, and how is it different from other Stanford Centers you may have visited before?

Vinograd: Our experience at SCPKU was very positive -- the facilities were great and the resident staff was very helpful. I haven't taught at any other Stanford Overseas Programs, so I don't have that basis for comparison, but I can confidently say that SCPKU serves a very useful purpose in providing a platform and gateway for study and research in China.


Question: What are your plans in China, if any, for the future?

Vinograd: I visit China regularly for research, exhibitions, and conferences and I expect to continue those activities in the future.

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About the speaker: One of the most renowned China specialists, Roderick MacFarquhar’s publications include The Hundred Flowers Campaign and the Chinese Intellectuals, The Sino-Soviet Dispute, China under Mao; Sino-American Relations, 1949-1971; The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao; the final two volumes of the Cambridge History of China (edited with the late John Fairbank); The Politics of China nd (3rd ed.): Sixty Years of the People’s Republic of China; and a trilogy, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution; and Mao’s Last Revolution (co-author John Fairbank). He was the founding editor of “The China Quarterly,” and has been a fellow at Columbia University, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Royal Institute for International Affairs. In previous personae, he has been a journalist, TV commentator, and Member of Parliament. 

Stanford Center at Peking University

Roderick MacFarquhar Leroy B. Williams Research Professor of History and Political Science Speaker Harvard University

Department of Art & Art History
435 Lausen Mall
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

(650) 723-6282
Paul L. and Phyllis Wattis Professor in Art
Professor of Art and Art History
Faculty Fellow at the Stanford Center at Peking University, June to September 2014
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