Political Process and the Origins of the Red Guard Movement in China (1966–1968)

Fei Yan

Specifically, the author examines how the insurgency of the Red Guards was made possible and shaped by the three variables proposed
by McAdam: the structure of political opportunities, indigenous organisational strength, and cognitive liberation processes. First, the Party’s internal crisis afforded ‘political opportunities’ for Mao to utilise the Red Guards as an instrument to destroy the existing order and opponents within the established Party. External factors, such as the increasing shortage of employment prospects, a burgeoning split with the Soviet Union, and divisions in China’s response to the U.S. war in Vietnam further expanded the political opportunity for the emergence of a student movement. Second, the indigenous organisations of the student Party afforded members the ‘structural potential’
for rapid mobilisation at the outset of the Cultural Revolution. Lastly, the allure of membership in the Red Guard was also founded in shared cognition liberation: the patriotic desire to construct a communist country, the prospect of gain in the relentless competition for education and employment, the zealous worship of Mao, and the collective sense of shared perils and group power.

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