During the Cultural Revolution, thousands of young Chinese crossed the border
between China and Burma and volunteered to join the army of the Communist Party of
Burma. For a long time, their motivations have conventionally been understood as a
response to Chairman Mao’s call to “export revolution”, and as a sacrifice for the cause
of international communism. Based on a wealth of new materials such as archives,
diaries, letters, and work notes as well as interviews, this case study makes a detailed
examination of two Beijing Red guards, Zhang Yuhai and Shen Dawei, who are
frequently taken as the best examples of ideologically-driven Chinese soldiers in Burma.
Through a close examination of their class backgrounds, the sufferings of their family,
and their own personal experiences of the Cultural Revolution, this study finds that, far
from being motivated by fervour for the world revolution, those youth went to Burma
for more practical reasons.
Ning Zhang is a Newton International Fellow in the Faculty of Asian and Middle
Eastern Studies. She received her PhD at Fudan University in China.