Eight Outcasts is a slightly shortened translation of Yang Kuisong's 2016 Chinese monograph “Bianyuanren” jishi (“边缘人”纪事).1 Using personal dossiers from various work units, the book provides eight case studies of people who were classified as “counter-revolutionaries” or “bad elements” during the Mao era. Yang acknowledges that the book is “a collection of research materials for a social history” (p. 14), leaving arguments or conclusions up to the reader. Being implicit might be a tactic to bypass Chinese censorship, but Yang has a clear goal of convincing readers that “all humans are created equal” (p. 22), a lofty ideal that was missing in socialist China. Using eight examples, Yang critically examines the Mao era, which divided people with no regard for human dignity.

People branded with the “counter-revolutionary” label were further split into “historical” and “active” categories. Those with a “historical” hat once worked in the Nationalist Party before...

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