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Research Projects of the University of Cologne‘s Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Fieldwork with contemporary witnesses in Shandong. Image: Prof. Dr. Felix Wemheuer

Rebels in Power

Factionalism in Shandong during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1969)

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Felix Wemheuer | Chinese Studies

Initial funding from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and the GSSC

uring the early Cultural Revolution (1966- 1969), factional conflicts inside the CCP (Communist Party of China) and within the society resulted in civil war and the almost collapse of the party-state. We chose Shandong Province as a case study for our project to carry out research on the question of how factional conflicts developed at the various administrative levels of state and society. The province is is the central level of the analysis of factionalism because the Central Government did not allow the establishment of rebel mass organizations on a national level. Since 2014, we have collected over 20,000 pages of documents and archival files and held interviews with important former rebel leaders at all levels. Thus far, over 100 hours of interviews have been recorded. We visited the province for field studies seven times in total. The project seeks to understand how the coalition of rebel cadres, students, workers and soldiers was created in Shandong and why they were able to “seize power” in January 1967. The events and developments that ultimately led to the splitting of the rebels and their final downfall in 1969 will also be examined.
To understand the dynamics, interaction between the national, provincial, city, county district and commune levels will be studied. The research will uncover drivers of policy changes on the national level and explain how clashes on the provincial level resulted in the repeated regrouping of factions. We assume that factional ties were spatially fragmented. There was no “chain of command” from the levels of the province to the city or even the countyside. Little is known about how factional conflicts developed at lower levels. To understand the interactions between different levels, we will conduct several case studies. For example, the most violent armed factional fighting inside Shandong took place in Linyi District. We have already collected hundreds of archival files from a commune in Linyi to analyze how conflicts at the village level between rural cadres and mass organizations developed.
We hope that the project will contribute to understand ing the nature of factionalism during the Cultural Revolution. This project will combine rich empirical data and archival research to build a theory of factionalism. Two PhD theses and one monograph will result from the project.

Text: Felix Wemheuer

Research Projects of the University of Cologne‘s Faculty of Arts and Humanities


Prof. Dr. Felix Wemheuser

Researchers: Frau JING Wenyu, Herr CUI Jinke

E-mail felix.wemheuer(at)