Barbara Mittler's new book sets out to challenge many of the myths about China's Cultural Revolution (1966–76). The popular and scholarly understandings of the “ten years of turmoil” as “exceptional, unprecedented, and unrepeatable” (p. 384) are called into question throughout Mittler's study. The central argument of the book is that the Cultural Revolution was but one part of a search for modernity that began in the nineteenth century and continues to the present. Mittler explores this “continuous revolution” by juxtaposing careful readings of cultural products with oral histories, showing that lived cultural experience was diverse and contradictory.

A Continuous Revolution is structured around physical senses, beginning with “smells” and ending with “touch.” Interdisciplinary in its approach, the book's three main parts are “sounds,” “words,” and “images.” Some subsections even echo genre; the chapter on musical revolutions mimetically follows an A-B-A composition (p. 40).

Part I (“sounds”) examines what Mittler calls...

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