The Cultural Revolution has been a taboo subject in China, but confusing and forgotten to Westerners. The political upheavals instigated by Mao Zedong between 1966-1976 were baffling to those who observed and participated. Mao ostensibly sought to create a new, permanent revolutionary China, doing away with old ideas, old customs, and old culture, but his main aim was to purge all political rivals and enshrine himself as a godlike figure, which somewhat continues to this day. It is during this tumultuous era, that the novel Serve the People! by Yan Lianke takes place.
Chinese history has long been ignored in the West, but a few spotlights do shine out from time to time on certain events, even if only to provide superficial understanding. These usually point to the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, and, recently, the Sino-Japanese War. However, there is a small window of time in Chinese history that contained multiple smaller wars, which has almost been completely ignored by Western scholars. This brief era is what The Bitter Peace – Conflict in China 1928-37 by Philip S. Jowett illuminates.