The Political Legacy of Violence during China's Cultural Revolution

30 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017 Last revised: 8 Jul 2020

See all articles by Yuhua Wang

Yuhua Wang

Department of Government, Harvard University

Date Written: April 2, 2019


Autocrats use repression to deter opposition. Are they successful in the long run? I argue that state repression can have long-lasting alienating effects on citizens’ political attitudes and coercive effects on their political behavior. I evaluate this proposition by studying the long-term effects of state terror during China’s Cultural Revolution. I show that individuals who grew up in localities that were exposed to more state-sponsored violence in the late 1960s are less trusting of national political leaders and more critical of the country’s political system today. These anti-regime attitudes are more likely to be passed down to the younger generation if family members discuss politics frequently than if they do not. Yet while state repression has created anti-regime attitudes, it has decreased citizens’ contentious behavior. My findings highlight the dilemma that authoritarian rulers face when they seek to consolidate their rule through repression.

Keywords: Authoritarian repression; political violence; political attitudes; protest; political socialization; China

Suggested Citation

Wang, Yuhua, The Political Legacy of Violence during China's Cultural Revolution (April 2, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Yuhua Wang (Contact Author)

Department of Government, Harvard University ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States


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