Armed warfare between rebel factions spread across China after a wave of power seizures overthrew local governments in early 1967. The political motivations that drove these conflicts, and the reasons for their violent intensity, have long been obscure. To address this historical puzzle, we reverse the emphases of theories about contentious politics. Instead of treating groups and their interests as defined by positions in social categories and networks, we examine their formation as an emergent property of political interactions. Instead of focusing on how collective action is initiated and sustained, we focus on how it ends. Factions formed during contingent, path-dependent interactions between rebel groups and army units after the breakdown of civilian political authority. Once factions formed, violence intensified over time as the costs of losing escalated in regions placed under military control. The analysis, based on sequences of events in temporally defined political contexts, draws on detailed narratives in local histories and a dataset of political events extracted from 2,242 city and county annals.
Andrew G. Walder is the Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor (Sociology) in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he is also a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. A political sociologist, he has long specialized on the study of contemporary Chinese society and political economy. He has previously taught at Columbia, Harvard, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. At Stanford, he has served as Chair of the Department of Sociology, Director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center, and Director of the Division of International, Comparative, and Area Studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences. His most recent books are Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement (2009) and China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed (2015). A book related to the subject of this talk, Agents of Disorder: Inside China’s Cultural Revolution, will be published by Harvard University Press this Fall. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.