The prologue illustrates the urban combat and rural mass killings in Guangxi Province in the summer of 1968 that have shocked observers of the Cultural Revolution, generating more than 100,000 deaths in a few months. It poses the question of how to explain why the violence was so much more severe here than elsewhere in China during this violent period and sketches out the contents of each chapter.
There are two approaches to explaining Guangxi's unusually severe violence; one is to examine the unfolding of violence as a sequence of events, and the second is to consider unusual features of Guangxi that might have intensified violence. This chapter lays out previous explanations, especially one that interprets mass killings as a form of genocidal intergroup violence against households labeled as "class enemies" by the regime. The chapter sketches out an alternative explanation that portrays the violence as a counter-insurgency campaign by local militias. The high death tolls therefore have more in common with massacres of leftists by the Indonesian military in 1965 than with genocidal violence and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia.
This chapter provides a detailed narrative account of how factional divisions emerged in Guangxi's two largest cities in January 1967, and why resistance to the appointment of Wei Guoqing to head military control forces was so controversial, dividing rebel forces. It emphasizes the fragmented nature of the rebel movement against the former provincial government and the key role played by radical emissaries from Beijing that fomented opposition that split the rebel camp. It portrays the political divisions as a split within existing power structures from top to bottom instead of a division between the privileged and insurgent forces that represented the aggrieved.
This chapter examines the spread of factional divisions that originated in the provincial capital of Nanning to all other cities and counties in the province. The process was structured by military networks that ranged from the provincial Military District down to village militia forces. Local factions developed in response to decisions by local military commanders, which pitted local actors who opposed these decisions against those who supported them, ensuring that factional alignments spanned the entire province.
This chapter chronicles the period from May to November 1967, during which delegations from each of the two rebel factions were in Beijing to negotiate a cease-fire along with military commanders from the region. It examines the role of Zhou Enlai in coordinating the negotiations and emphasizing the importance of security on the border during the effort to support Vietnam in the war with the Americans. It also shows the near victory of the April 22 insurgent faction and their sudden reversal of fortune in October, as Mao Zedong changed his mind about challenges to military commanders.
The agreement forced upon the factions in Beijing led to a "Preparatory Committee" to usher in a new provincial government, with the delegations returning to Guangxi in November 1967. Instead of paving the way to a new government of unity, the provisional committee quickly broke down, as the commanders of local People's Armed Departments (PADs) began rural massacres of their opponents to pave the way for new local governments in rural counties and districts. In response, April faction rebels mobilized for armed resistance, leading to the total breakdown of the agreements reached under pressure in Beijing.
Employing data extracted from classified government investigation reports, this chapter examines systematic evidence for and against competing explanations of Guangxi's violence: that it was intergroup violence based on community action versus an organized counter-insurgency campaign implemented by local militias. The evidence shows that factional divisions extended deeply into rural districts, where mass killings took place; that the victims of violence were divided roughly equally between those aligned with political factions and those in stigmatized "class enemy" households; and that the perpetrators of the violence were overwhelmingly civilian or military authorities or village militias under their command.
Employing data extracted from systematic investigation reports, this chapter identifies a relatively small group of counties where most deaths took place. These unusually violent counties were the ones that drove Guangxi's death rates far above those of other regions of China. The chapter provides narrative accounts from a selection of the most violent counties to illustrate the variety of ways that mass killings were generated in rural regions. It also provides accounts of the sexual violence and cannibalism that have been emphasized in sensational accounts by previous authors and portrays them as crimes of opportunity in the wake of organized mass killings instead of expressions of group hatreds.
Employing regression analysis of data extracted from systematic investigation reports, this chapter subjects to statistical tests alternative explanations for Guangxi's severe violence. It finds no link between local ethnic profiles and levels of violence but finds strong evidence that death rates were higher where the presence of the party-state was strongest, and that they were lowest in remote border regions, evidence consistent with material presented in prior chapters.
Summarizing the findings in prior chapters and pulling out their broader implications, the epilogue characterizes the political conflicts as a splintering of provincial power structures that reached from the capital down into every locality, shaping factional divisions that mirrored the security and military networks that remained intact across the province. It also draws parallels and contrasts with superficially similar violent episodes in Bosnia, Rwanda, Indonesia, partition-era India, Guatemala, and other settings, firmly establishing Guangxi's extreme violence as a counter-insurgency campaign that escalated beyond the control of the authorities who launched it.
The appendix describes the origins and contents of the 18-volume classified investigation reports compiled by China's central government in the early 1980s, material that formed the foundation for this book. It describes how the investigations were conducted, their political purposes, and potential gaps and biases. It also explains the procedures used to code data about localities and events described in narrative accounts in these materials, the difficulties encountered, and how the material can be profitably analyzed given these difficulties.