Elizabeth J. Perry
Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition
University of California Press 2012
Anyuan was a town of coal miners. It was a place where local secret societies held power, where rebellion and violence were part of the life of local laborers, and where the Chinese Communist revolution was experienced especially early and particularly intensely. In her meticulously researched and elegantly narrated new book, Elizabeth J. Perry explores the significance of Anyuan both as a cornerstone of Mao’s revolutionary mobilization efforts, and as an emblem that was appropriated and re-appropriated by different groups with different agendas after Mao’s death. Anyuan: Mining China’s Revolutionary Tradition (University of California Press, 2012) carefully traces how Communist leaders deployed a range of cultural tropes and resources in the service of political persuasion. As a result of a sustained and successful effort at cultural positioning in Anyuan via the visual, verbal, ritual, and performance arts, Communist leaders like the charismatic Li Lisan and the disciplined Liu Shaoqi translated the social resources and labor infrastructure of China’s “Little Moscow” into an engine of revolution. Perry takes readers into the classrooms, textbooks, and discussion groups that helped make this possible. She also chronicles the changing significance of Anyuan in the context of the transformation of the Chinese Communist revolution from a proletarian to a peasant movement, exploring the very different roles that militarization and violence played in this new revolutionary environment, and the later role of Anyuan as an emblem variously wielded by authors, painters, filmmakers, and others who constructed very different versions of a revolutionary tradition. It is a book well worth reading, both as a window into a crucial period and space of Chinese history and as a model of careful narrative argument.