Critical Book Review


The Red Guard movement is the basis of political protest and transformation in China. As demonstrated in the Chongqing violence, the hallowed revolutionary culture of the Red Guard generation became the prestige and status of the social currency that decisively shaped the history of China for the past five decades. Overall, the revolution has developed two groups of people in the country: adherents and opponents of the Chinese communist revolution.

Factors that Influenced the formation of the Red Guard Generation

One of the main factors that determined the composition of the RGG (Red-Guard-Generation) is the generic concept. Both in the conventional and contemporary society the generation factor is often used to highlight age group differences and to place groups and individuals within historical time. According to Young, the Red Guard Generation is the age cohort that was born around 1949 and attended middle school by the mid-1960s. Scholars also view the generation concept from the sociological perspective. This viewpoint involves the strong bond created among persons after being exposed to the mental and social symptoms of a dynamic destabilizing process.  It is in this context as Young points out that the Red Guard movement of the mid-1960s became the formative experience of the generation. Nonetheless, Young states that despite belonging to the same age cohort, exposure to different historical experiences results in different sociological generations. Generally, the social-generation concept has produced two sociological generations in China: adherents and opponents of the communist ideology.

Another factor that influenced the formation of RGG is the Cultural Revolution in China. The revolution occurred in the mid-1960s when most young persons were in middle school and others in university. The Cultural Revolution engaged youths in political mythology and imaginary revolution between 1966 and 1968. To influence the young persons during this period, Young states that the government-controlled images and information and thus created an environment of infinite hopes and possibilities and simultaneously a sense of threat and danger. For instance, the Flower of the Motherland movie was one of the tools of propaganda used by the People’s Republic to lay a foundation for the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, just like in German during the Nazi era, the People’s Republic used the media to influence the youth. To prove loyalty youths were required to participate in acts of violence. For instance, during the 1967 Chongqing war, the Red Guards proved loyalty by being involved in bloody fights that included the use of machine guns, pistols, and knives. According to Young, the battles were reenactments of the stories and movies that the Red Guards had watched on the 1930s and 1940s revolution. Overall, the Cultural Revolution determined the formative experience of the Red Guard generation.

Transformation of the Red Guard Generation 

The return to the villages and mountain campaign is one of the factors that transformed the lives of some of the youths during the Red Guard movement. The campaign enabled RGG to shift from the wealthy life in school and urban centers where the government provided all the necessities and instead encounter the ordinary life in the rural areas. Accordingly, the performance theory became the basis of the dissent and the transformation witnessed during the Red Guard movement. Based on the framework, unlike the abstract concepts that individuals receive in school and through materials such as images, literature, and films, performance creates valued results. Therefore, by encountering ordinary life in the village, some of the youths were able to sympathize with the older generation and share experiences with peers, thus the transformation. In general, the hardships of the ordinary life caused change and initiated a counterrevolution by separating youths from constant indoctrination by the government and the luxurious experience in the urban centers.

The Red Guard press movement is another factor that caused dissent and transformation among youths during the period. Though the Cultural Revolution was a time of blind obedience and fanaticism, Young states that it was during the same period that underground movements of dissent emerged in the Red Guard movement. For instance, the Cultural Revolution authorized the use of a prominent character poster. While the intention of using such images was to perpetuate the indoctrination process, the process enabled the Red Guard Press to thrive and become a platform to undertake mass criticism. In turn, Young notes that numerous Red Guard papers appeared and provided a channel of expression. Therefore, the Red Guard press became a source of mutual attacks between rival factions that accused each other over the spread of counterrevolutionary ideas. In general, through the Guard press, youths opposing the Chinese communist movement before and during the return to the village campaign publicized views on the evolution and thus mobilized more people to dissent.

The New Enlightenment to the Present Time

One of the outcomes of the Red Guard movement is the new enlightenment in China. The new culture, which began in the 1980s represents a new epoch that is the foundation of the current state of China. Unlike in the Red Guard generation, which targeted the Cultural Revolution and Mao, the further enlightenment places current economic, social and governance values in China. According to Young, the new culture introduced principles such as the rule of law, political and economic reform, and human rights, which were alien in the RGG. For instance, during the new enlightenment, China has been transformed from a closed to an open economy. In turn, as Young points out, most of the communist restrictions in the country have been removed, and foreign firms can operate in the state freely. Moreover, principles established during the Red Guard movement such as the Guard press are enhanced as the country embraces modern technology including the internet. However, Mao fever is still prevalent in the nation, notably as the republic abandons socialism and embraces capitalism. According to Young some of the principles of the Red Guard movement are prevalent in the country. Overall, the Red Guard movement has ushered in the new enlightenment in China which has drastically transformed the social political and economic principle in spite of the Mao fever.


In conclusion, a critical analysis of Young’s book demonstrates that the Red Guard movement is a turning point in the history of China. Through the campaign, the RGG was cultivated as the flower of the People’s Republic and endowed with the mission of perpetuating the communist revolution in China. Poignantly, the same process also led to social and political dissent in China. Therefore, the passion of revolution that resulted in the violent Red Guard generation also caused radical youths to dissent and challenged the political legitimacy of the communist system in China.