APARC Research - Political Violence and State Repression

Poster: "Advance Courageously Under the Guidance of the Red Flag of Mao Zedong Thought", 1966

Political Violence and State Repression

Civil strife in a Chinese province, 1966-1969

The dynamics of conflict in an authoritarian regime

One of the largest rebellions of the twentieth century that took place in China has been little explored due to government censorship. Newly available, highly classified materials open up a window to understanding this major upheaval.

Research Focus

From 1966 to 1969 China experienced one of the largest political upheavals in the twentieth century, during which close to 1.6 million people died due to political persecution, armed battles, and state repression. Research on the events of this period has been largely forbidden in China.

The Political Violence and State Repression project capitalizes on the recent availability of unusually detailed and highly classified internal investigation reports compiled by the government of a province that experienced some of the most severe disorders and highest death tolls.

The project codes information from 18 book-length volumes into a database that will contain close to 6,000 political events and associated casualties, for all 86 cities and counties in the province, along with a range of economic, social, and political data about each locality. The quality, level of detail, and comprehensive coverage of these materials will permit the analysis of state collapse and political violence with an unusual degree of precision and depth. The completed dataset and full documentation will be widely shared and made publicly available at the end of the project. This will contribute to efforts to understand the dynamics of political violence and state repression, and the sources of instability and conflict in highly centralized authoritarian regimes. Insurgencies in collapsing dictatorships are a major concern for the United States in international affairs, and the data and analysis generated by this project may inform the crafting of policy toward such regions.

The research is funded by a National Science Foundation grant. It builds upon earlier research, Political Movements in an Authoritarian Hierarchy, that established a similar database of political events throughout China, but that used much shorter published accounts containing less complete statistics.

Lead Researcher


Andrew Walder

Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor, School of Humanities and Sciences

Andrew Walder

Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor, School of Humanities and Sciences
Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies



Generating a Violent Insurgency: China’s Factional Warfare of 1967–1968
with James Chu, American Journal of Sociology 126:1, July 2020