SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

The Scribblers Mafia: Radical Ideologues in Mao’s Coalition

Victor Shih
Professor Victor Shih (University of California at San Diego)

Date: 25 September 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 25 September 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: S116

Type of Event: Seminar


In this seminar, Victor Shih talks about how traditional literature on the Gang of Four focuses on their ability to generate key polemics and policy documents to help launch important campaigns. He further argues that leaders in institutionalized authoritarian regimes have strong incentive to replace experienced, well-connected colleagues with inexperienced officials with little or no elite networks.  In doing so, the top leaders can minimize the chance that a successful coup could be launched by other senior members of the regime.  The scribblers (笔杆子) fit this bill to the dot during the Cultural Revolution. Most of them had been junior and obscure cadres prior to the Cultural Revolution who had been rocketed up to important positions by Mao. They then performed every task exactly as instructed by Mao because they dreaded any deviation from the dictator’s instructions. They also did not know the monitoring capacity of the dictator at first. Also, without a network of officials in the upper echelon with shared history, junior scribblers did not know whether forming a rival coalition against Mao would have been possible. This was knowledge that came with years of service in the upper echelon, which would have been unknown to a newly arrived official.  Finally, the strategy of promoting political neophytes into nominally important positions also reduced the costs of losing them, providing the dictator and his rivals with greater strategic flexibility.


Victor C. Shih is associate professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego specializing in China. He is the author of a book published by the Cambridge University Press entitled Factions and Finance in China: Elite Conflict and Inflation. He is further the author of numerous articles appearing in academic and business journals, including The American Political Science Review, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Politics, and The Wall Street Journal. Shih served as principal in The Carlyle Group’s global market strategy group and continues to advise the financial community on China related issues. He is currently working on a book manuscript on elite coalition strategies under Mao and Deng, as well as several papers using quantitative data to analyze the Chinese political elite.

No registration is required. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Organiser: Co-organised by Dept of Politics and International Studies and SOAS China Institute

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