Scholar with a crucial role in helping the west understand China’s opaque politics

Roderick MacFarquhar, who has died aged 88, was one of the most significant sinologists of the last 100 years, a figure who through a variety of academic posts and a series of books from the 1960s onwards opened up to the outside world the opaque machinations of elite politics in the People’s Republic of China.

The three volumes of his best-known book, Origins of the Cultural Revolution, published between 1974 and 1997, remain a monument of scholarship, a meticulous account of the years from the 50s onwards as Mao Zedong seemed to be growing increasingly marginalised in Beijing before his spectacular, and in many ways disastrous, comeback in 1966 at the start of the Cultural Revolution.

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