Factions in Flux: Intergroup Collaboration and Conflict in the Red Guard Movement, with Fei YAN (at Harvard, Tuesday Dec. 12, 2023)

The Harvard-Yenching Institute and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies are pleased to invite you to the HYI Visiting Scholars lecture series:

Factions in Flux: Intergroup Collaboration and Conflict in the Red Guard Movement


Tuesday Dec 12, 2023 | 11:30 AM

Common Room (Room #136), Harvard-Yenching Institute, 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Fei Yan | Associate Professor, Sociology, Tsinghua University; HYI-Radcliffe Institute Joint Fellow, 2023-24


Yuhua Wang | Professor of Government, Harvard University

**Please note the date change**

Co-sponsored by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Students of social movements and collective action have traditionally concentrated on the structural factors influencing group formation during social mobilization. This conventional model depicts members of opposing factions as pursuing collective interests that are predetermined by their existing social positions, leading to well-defined political alliances with fixed objectives and unwavering identities. However, during periods of radical instability, political ambiguity and contingency often disrupt the rigidity of these established models of mobilization. Drawing from a detailed examination of popular uprisings and factional contention in Guangzhou City and Haifeng County during the years 1966-1968 with the more abundant sources available today, this study identifies two critical mechanisms—namely, contextual ambiguity and adaptive choice—that serve as intermediaries in shaping political alignments in moments of radical change. It is argued that within rapidly changing and ambiguous political environments, the process of group formation is predominantly driven by emerging interests as factional struggles evolve, rather than being firmly rooted in pre-existing social antagonisms. Throughout this dynamic process, new political identities emerge, and political interests are continuously redefined, often giving rise to violent conflicts of increasing magnitude and influence.


HYI-Radcliffe Institute Joint Fellowship recipient

YAN Fei 严飞 is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Tsinghua University. He specializes in political sociology and historical sociology, with a particular focus on how collective injustice motivates political protests and how institutional changes impact the identity of movement participants, ultimately altering the political orientations of social movements.

Yan earned his PhD in sociology from the University of Oxford and completed postdoctoral research at Stanford University. He previously worked at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University and the Department of Applied Social Studies at the City University of Hong Kong. Yan is the author of Drivers of Innovation: Entrepreneurship, Education, and Finance in Asia (Stanford Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2023) and Understanding China through Big Data: Applications of Theory-oriented Quantitative Approaches (Routledge, 2022). His research has been published in numerous prestigious journals, including Social Science ResearchThe Sociological ReviewPoeticsUrban StudiesSocial Movement StudiesThe China QuarterlyJournal of Contemporary China, and Modern China. Yan has received awards from the Association for Asian Studies, the Institute for Humane Studies, and Royal Historical Society.

At the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Yan will be completing a manuscript for his book project, tentatively titled “Factions in Formation: Grassroots Conflict and Collaboration in China’s Cultural Revolution.” This project explores factional politics and contentious violence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1968. By utilizing the more abundant sources available today, Yan aims to demonstrate that rival factions were constituted through a dynamic and contingent process as different groups confronted local political issues and urgent strategic demands. This book offers not only a new perspective on a revolutionary historical event but also a nuanced understanding of broader sociological and political processes of conflict, collaboration, and group identity formation.