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The Cultural Revolution(s) of China



In the study of modern, contemporary and recent Chinese (mainland) history, the use of the term Cultural Revolution tends to be privileged for 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, their causes and the effects they (may have) had in the periods following. Some questions that will be raised will be: was the Republic really an enterprise that was doomed from the start? Were the early years of the People’s Republic really as innovative and revolutionary as is generally believed? Were the effects of the period 1966-1976 really as disruptive and destructive as popular belief has it? Were the student demonstrations in 1989 really about (representative) democracy?
In analyzing and discussing these and other questions, the course sets out to nurture a more critical approach to convenient half-truths, oversimplifications and received ideas.

Assessment method

Active participation in class (debating) 10%
Presentation 30%
Paper (ca. 4000 words) 60%

Reading list

(NB preliminary, to be finalized!):

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

  • 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)