China's protracted regional conflicts of 1967 and 1968 have long been understood as struggles between conservative and radical forces whose opposed interests were so deeply rooted in existing patterns of power and privilege that they defied the imposition of military control. This study of Nanjing, a key provincial capital that experienced prolonged factional conflict, yields a new explanation: the conflicts were prolonged precisely because they could not be characterized as pitting “conservatives” against “radicals”, making it difficult for central officials, local military forces, or Mao Zedong to decide how to resolve them. Furthermore, Beijing officials, regional military forces, and local civilian cadres were themselves divided against one another, exacerbating and prolonging local conflicts. In competing for approval from central authorities, local factions adopted opportunistic and rapidly shifting political stances designed to portray their opponents as reactionary conservatives—charges that had no basis in fact.

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