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The Cultural Revolution(s) of China


Admission requirements

Only for students of MA programme in Asian Studies. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to one of the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact their co-ordinator of studies.


In the study of modern, contemporary and recent Chinese (mainland) history, the use of the term Cultural Revolution tends to be privileged for the political aspects of the convulsive and tumultuous years 1966-1976. It becomes increasingly clear, however, that the decade of great proletarian cultural revolutionary activities is just one event in a string of social, cultural and political movements that have had a bearing on the People’s Republic that we see today.
This course aims to revisit and reappraise the events of 1911/12, 1919, 1934, 1949, 1966, 1971, 1978 and 1989. Instead of focusing on the political dimension, we will address social and cultural causes underlying these events and the effects these (may have) generated in the periods following. Some questions that will be raised will be: were the social and cultural developments set in motion by the Republic really doomed from the start? Were the social and cultural policies of the early years of the People’s Republic really as innovative and revolutionary as is generally believed? Were culture and society in the period 1966-1976 really as disrupted and destroyed as popular belief has it? Were the student demonstrations in 1989 really about (representative) democracy, or were other, more pressing issues really at stake?

Course objectives

Each session will be interactive and student-driven with short presentations on the set readings followed by discussions. The exception will be the first session where there will just be a lecture after an introduction of the course and self-introductions by the participants.

  • nurturing a critical approach to convenient half-truths, oversimplifications and received ideas

  • independent research and writing

  • oral presentation


Check timetable

Mode of instruction


Course Load

10EC = 280 hours

  • Classes: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks: 26 hours

  • Preparing for classes: 114 hours

  • Preparing for presentation: 30 hours

  • Writing paper: 110 hours

Assessment method

  • Attendance and active participation in class (including book presentation): 10%

  • Paper Presentation: 20%

  • Paper (ca. 6000 words): 70%
    Papers will have to be submitted through Blackboard and are due four weeks after the final class.


Yes. For additional readings, anouncements, etc.
See for more info Blackboard .

Reading list

For each lecture 2-4 English-language articles (about 100 pages) will have to be read. In addition, students take turns reading a book for presentation in class. All readings for class will either be made available on Blackboard or will be reserved in the East Asian Library.

Readings (preliminary, to be expanded):

  • Jean-Philippe Beja (Ed) (2010), The Impact of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Massacre (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis)

  • Jean Chesneaux (1968), The Chinese Labor Movement: 1919-1927 (Stanford: Stanford University Press)

  • Chow Tse-tung (1960), The May 4th Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China (Harvard: Harvard University Press)

  • Arif Dirlik (1975), “The Ideological Foundations of the New Life Movement: A Study in Counterrevolution”, The Journal of Asian Studies 34:4, 945-980

  • Roderick MacFarquhar & Michael Schoenhals (2006), Mao’s Last Revolution (Harvard: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

  • Rana Mitter (2004), A Bitter Revolution – China’s Struggle with the Modern World (Oxford, etc.: Oxford University Press)


Registration through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. S.R. Landsberger