Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class


Joel Andreas

Contemporary Issues in Asia and the Pacific


Stanford: Stanford University Press

Available From: Stanford University Press
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8047-6078-2
Binding: paper
Pages: 368


Winner of the 2009 Outstanding Academic Title Award, sponsored by Choice.

Rise of the Red Engineers is the fourteenth title in the East-West Center book series, Contemporary Issues in Asia and the Pacific, published by Stanford University Press.

How did the Chinese Communist Party, which came to power promising to eliminate class distinctions, including those based on education, end up creating a highly hierarchical society presided over by technocratic officials? Joel Andreas chronicles how the CCP came to abandon class leveling in favor of technocratic policies. After 1949, poorly educated peasant revolutionaries uneasily shared the top echelons of society with members of China's educated elite. These contending elites gradually coalesced, as revolutionary cadres' children gained educational credentials and intellectuals' children joined the ruling party. It was Mao's attacks on both groups during the Cultural Revolution, however, that spurred inter-elite political unity and paved the way--after his death--for the consolidation of a technocratic class that combined their political and cultural resources. This story is told through a case study of Tsinghua University, China's premier school of technology, which was at the epicenter of these conflicts and became the preferred training ground for technocrats, including many of China's current leaders.


Details and ordering information at
Stanford University Press

  1. PART 1. BUILDING SOCIALISM (1949-1966)
  2. Political Foundations of Class Power
  3. Cultural Foundations of Class Power
  4. Cradle of Red Engineers

  5. Political Versus Cultural power
  6. Uniting to Defend Political and Cultural Power

  7. Supervising the Red Engineers
  8. Eliminating the Distinction Between Mental and Manual Labor
  9. Worker-Peasant-Soldier Students

  10. Rebuilding the Foundations of Political and Cultural Power
  11. Triumph of the Red Engineers
  12. Technocracy and Capitalism
Appendix 1: Tsinghua University Faculty, Production Workers, and Students, 1949-1992
Appendix 2: List of Interviewees


"Andreas offers not only one of the best books about politics in post-1949 China, but also one of the greatest contributions to the study of the new class in general...This theoretically informed, empirically rich study will reach far beyond its particular subject, and should appeal to all readers interested in social stratification, intellectuals, socialist and postsocialist societies, and comparative-historical sociology."



"Rise of the Red Engineers is a welcome contrast to scholarship on contemporary China that dismisses the Mao years as crazy or as irrelevant to the reform period. Andreas takes the ideology and policies of the Mao era seriously and judges the results of Mao's programs by their own stated goals... Andreas' signal achievement is in using complex human stories to construct a compelling and tightly packaged argument that pushes us to think about the world in new ways. He succeeds because his goal is to explain what happened and why, rather than to give the entire Mao era a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Everyone interested in contemporary China and modern Chinese history should read this book."

--China Journal


"This is an important study of the Maoist effort to shape China's new generations of political and technocratic elites and the consequences. Joel Andreas focuses on China's premier technology university as the keystone of this effort, explains why the university erupted in violence during the Cultural Revolution, and analyzes the shifts in status today of the political, technocratic, and moneyed elites. This is one of the very best books about China that I have read in recent years."

--Jonathan Unger, Director, Contemporary China Center,
Australian National University


"This study of the recruitment and training of a technocratic elite in China reads like a chronicle of the rise and fall of revolutionary communism. Andreas brings back into analysis structural questions of power largely ignored in recent studies of Chinese politics, and shows how the Cultural Revolution ironically played a formative part in the coming together of old and new elites."

--Arif Dirlik, Professor of Chinese Studies,
Chinese University of Hong Kong


"Andreas provides a sweeping sociological history of Tsinghua University, told through the lens of class formation and the politics of social mobility. He chronicles Tsinghua's role as a crucible of elite formation from the early imposition of Communist rule on an elite university, through the struggles of the Cultural Revolution and the post-Mao restoration, up through the recent resurgence of high-tech capitalism in the university's Science Park. This book is absorbing reading for those interested in the tortuous course of the Chinese revolution."

--Andrew G. Walder, the Denise O'Leary and
Kent Thiry Professor of Sociology, Stanford University


"Rise of the Red Engineers deftly probes the contradictions between "red" and "expert" that haunted Mao-era communist policy. Andreas presents an original and compelling narrative about how protracted struggle between rough hewn revolutionary cadres and more refined intellectuals ultimately gave rise to the technocratic elite that governs contemporary China."

--Kellee S. Tsai, Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University,
and author of Capitalism without Democracy:
The Private Sector in Contemporary China