Agents of Disorder: Inside China’s Cultural Revolution is a 2019 book authored by Andrew G. Walder and published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. It is reviewed for JCA by Clemens Büttner of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.
Walder examines the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1969 from the perspective of a social scientist who specialises in studying rebellion and collective action. His data is filled out by “a comprehensive set of accounts taken from the local annals of 2,246 Chinese cities and counties…”, material not used previously.
According to the reviewer, “Walder aims to find answers to the following three questions: What processes underlay the events of the Cultural Revolution, what forces caused the upheaval, and why did the highly centralised Chinese party-state disintegrate so quickly?” Büttner considers he has done an excellent job.
The reviewer states that Walder:
maintains that contextual and mutable factors decided upon the political positions and actions of these groups and factions. In the course of the conflicts of the Cultural Revolution, individuals and groups repeatedly had to decide whether to support or attack individuals in positions of power, whether to press for more concessions from powerholders or to seize power themselves, whether to support or oppose power seizures by other rebel factions, whether to support or oppose military units that had been sent to their localities to restore order, and whether or not to use violence in one’s dealings with rival factions.
He concludes that this book delivers:
The key finding of Walder’s convincing and thought-provoking study is that it first and foremost was various state actors that caused an inside-out collapse of the Chinese party-state and triggered a wave of collective violence throughout the nation.