A Red Rebirth: The Liminal Evolution of Cultural Revolution Red Guards


 A Red Rebirth

The Liminal Evolution of Cultural Revolution Red Guards

Ng Qi Siang, Yale-NUS College ‘19

(Initially published in YNUJ Volume 1, 2016)


Much has been written about the quasi-religious nature of the Mao regime during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Comparatively little, however, has been done to explore the social effects of the revolution’s youthful acolytes – the Red Guards. This paper will argue that the Cultural Revolution transformed the Red Guards into liminal figures in Chinese society. Events of the Revolution will be analysed based on Turner’s 1 framework of liminality. Analysis of sociological trends focusing on the themes of spontaneous order, social influence and religion, reveal how state-initiated social forces fashioned spontaneous radicalism into an instrument of social upheaval, setting the red guards apart from the society they sought to destroy. The paper also examines exceptions to Turner’s framework and explores how these potentially led to the excesses perpetrated by the Red Guards. This study will provide a unique sociological perspective of the Cultural Revolution, as well as a better understanding of extremist indoctrination among youth.

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