Tan Lifu: A "Reactionary" Red Guard in Historical Perspective

Tan Lifu was a Red Guard leader whose August 1966 speech in defence of the Party's class line and his university's work team has long been considered key evidence for social interpretations of Red Guard factionalism. New documentation including the complete transcript of the original speech shows that Tan's case deviates sharply from the reputed profile of conservative students. Tan in fact espoused a version of the Party's class line that did not differ from the one advocated by those who denounced him; his rebel opponents at Beijing Industrial University were also organized and led by students from revolutionary cadre backgrounds; and Tan supported the (second) work team sent to his school because (unlike the first) it conducted a ferocious purge of a Party leadership against whom Tan harboured strong grievances. The case illustrates the ways that the politics of the work team period split students from similar backgrounds into opposing camps rather than sorting them into factions based on differences in family background.