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A Continuous Revolution

A Continuous Revolution

Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture

Barbara Mittler

ISBN 9780674065819

Publication date: 02/04/2013

Cultural Revolution Culture, often denigrated as nothing but propaganda, was liked not only in its heyday but continues to be enjoyed today. A Continuous Revolution sets out to explain its legacy. By considering Cultural Revolution propaganda art—music, stage works, prints and posters, comics, and literature—from the point of view of its longue durée, Barbara Mittler suggests it was able to build on a tradition of earlier art works, and this allowed for its sedimentation in cultural memory and its proliferation in contemporary China.

Taking the aesthetic experience of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) as her base, Mittler juxtaposes close readings and analyses of cultural products from the period with impressions given in a series of personal interviews conducted in the early 2000s with Chinese from diverse class and generational backgrounds. By including much testimony from these original voices, Mittler illustrates the extremely multifaceted and contradictory nature of the Cultural Revolution, both in terms of artistic production and of its cultural experience.


  • Mittler’s groundbreaking study assesses Cultural Revolution arts—music, drama, opera, painting, comics, and literature—as more than propaganda, demonstrating that they were paradigm-shifting works that left indelible impacts on China’s artistic culture… Magisterial in scope, this book proves that art of the Cultural Revolution period was not an aberration but rather the most complete expression of trends that had begun in the early 20th century, when yearnings for a great hero first entered popular discourse. As the apotheosis of mass culture, the Cultural Revolution produced truly popular art that spoke to uneducated farmers and urbane intellectuals alike and was experienced in multiple ways that belie claims of hegemony. Accompanied by a website that includes further text, images, music, and video clips, this will serve as the definitive study of its genre for years to come.

    —N. E. Barnes, Choice


  • 2013, Winner of the John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History


  • Barbara Mittler is Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Book Details

  • 502 pages
  • 7 x 10 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center