Anatomy of a Regional Civil War: Guangxi, China, 1967-1968

Social Science History

During the violent early years of China’s Cultural Revolution, the province of Guangxi experienced by far the largest death toll of any comparable region. One explanation for the extreme violence emphasizes a process of collective killings focused on households in rural communities that were long categorized as class enemies by the regime. From this perspective, the high death tolls were generated by a form of collective behavior reminiscent of genocidal intergroup violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, and similar settings. Evidence from investigations conducted in China in the 1980s reveals the extent to which the killings were part of a province-wide suppression of rebel insurgents, carried out by village militia, who also targeted large numbers of noncombatants. Guangxi’s death tolls were the product of a   counterinsurgency campaign that more closely resembled the massacres of communists and suspected sympathizers coordinated by Indonesia’s army in wake of the coup that deposed Sukarno in 1965.