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The Battle for China's Past
Mao and the Cultural Revolution
Mobo Gao
Pluto Press, 2008

Mao and his policies have long been demonised in the West, with the Cultural Revolution considered a fundamental violation of human rights.

As China embraces capitalism, the Mao era is being surgically denigrated by the Chinese political and intellectual elite. This book tackles the extremely negative depiction of China under Mao in recent publications and argues most people in China, including the rural poor and the urban working class, actually benefited from Mao's policy of a comprehensive welfare system for the urban and basic health and education provision for the rural, which is being reversed in the current rush towards capitalism.

By a critical analysis of the mainstream account of the Mao era and the Cultural Revolution and by revealing what is offered in the unofficial e-media debates this book sets the record straight, making a convincing argument for the positive effects of Mao's policies on the well-being of the Chinese people.


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Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge
The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult
Melissa Schrift
Rutgers University Press, 2001
With the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966, the regime of Chairman Mao Zedong launched a propaganda campaign aimed at disseminating inspiring images of the chairman to a skeptical populace. Thus was born the "Mao badge," a political icon in the form of a pin that was widely distributed to create, sustain, and inflate the Mao personality cult during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Scholars estimate that over two billion Mao badges, featuring over fifty thousand different designs and themes, were produced.

As China now enters an era in which people can more openly express their views about the Cultural Revolution, these icons have taken on new meanings, and people are wearing and talking about them in subversive ways. Melissa Schrift suggests that the badges developed "lives" that far surpass the intentions of their creators, as the Chinese ironically commodified them, both during the Cultural Revolution and today. During the Mao years, people wore the objects to symbolize their unquestioned loyalty to Mao. Yet even then many Chinese subverted the badges' symbolic meaning. Using them in socially approved rituals, they gained a measure of political credibility that masked their practice of prohibited customary rites.

Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge is a work of cultural history that contributes to our understanding not only of Chinese society but, more generally, of strategies people employ in responding to and transforming the meaning of propaganda campaigns and symbols.

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China Under Mao
A Revolution Derailed
Andrew G. Walder
Harvard University Press, 2015

China’s Communist Party seized power in 1949 after a long period of guerrilla insurgency followed by full-scale war, but the Chinese revolution was just beginning. China Under Mao narrates the rise and fall of the Maoist revolutionary state from 1949 to 1976—an epoch of startling accomplishments and disastrous failures, steered by many forces but dominated above all by Mao Zedong.

“Walder convincingly shows that the effect of Maoist inequalities still distorts China today…[It] will be a mind-opening book for many (and is a depressing reminder for others).”
—Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator

“Andrew Walder’s account of Mao’s time in power is detailed, sophisticated and powerful…Walder takes on many pieces of conventional wisdom about Mao’s China and pulls them apart…What was it that led so much of China’s population to follow Mao’s orders, in effect to launch a civil war against his own party? There is still much more to understand about the bond between Mao and the wider population. As we try to understand that bond, there will be few better guides than Andrew Walder’s book. Sober, measured, meticulous in every deadly detail, it is an essential assessment of one of the world’s most important revolutions.”
—Rana Mitter, Times Literary Supplement


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Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World
A Concise History
Rebecca E. Karl
Duke University Press, 2010
Throughout this lively and concise historical account of Mao Zedong’s life and thought, Rebecca E. Karl places the revolutionary leader’s personal experiences, social visions and theory, military strategies, and developmental and foreign policies in a dynamic narrative of the Chinese revolution. She situates Mao and the revolution in a global setting informed by imperialism, decolonization, and third worldism, and discusses worldwide trends in politics, the economy, military power, and territorial sovereignty. Karl begins with Mao’s early life in a small village in Hunan province, documenting his relationships with his parents, passion for education, and political awakening during the fall of the Qing dynasty in late 1911. She traces his transition from liberal to Communist over the course of the next decade, his early critiques of the subjugation of women, and the gathering force of the May 4th movement for reform and radical change. Describing Mao’s rise to power, she delves into the dynamics of Communist organizing in an overwhelmingly agrarian society, and Mao’s confrontations with Chiang Kaishek and other nationalist conservatives. She also considers his marriages and romantic liaisons and their relation to Mao as the revolutionary founder of Communism in China. After analyzing Mao’s stormy tenure as chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Karl concludes by examining his legacy in China from his death in 1976 through the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

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Mao Zedong’s “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Literature and Art”
A Translation of the 1943 Text with Commentary
Bonnie S. McDougall
University of Michigan Press, 1980
The writings of Mao Zedong have been circulated throughout the world more widely, perhaps, than those of any other single person this century. The “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Literature and Art” has occupied a prominent position among his many works and has been the subject of intense scrutiny both within and outside China. This text has undoubted importance to modern Chinese literature and history. In particular, it reveals Mao’s views on such questions as the relationship between writers or works of literature and their audience, or the nature and value of different kinds of literary products.
In this translation and commentary, Bonnie S. McDougall finds that Mao was in fact ahead of many of his critics in the West and his Chinese contemporaries in his discussion of literary issues. Unlike the majority of modern Chinese writers deeply influenced by Western theories of literature and society (including Marxism), Mao remained close to traditional patterns of thought and avoided the often mechanical or narrowly literal interpretations that were the hallmark of Western schools current in China in the early twentieth century.
Many of the detailed discussions on the “Talks” in the West have been concerned with their political and historical significance. However, since Mao is a literary figure of some importance in twentieth-century China, McDougall finds it worthwhile to follow up his published remarks on the nature and source of literature and the means of its evaluation. By better understanding the complex and revolutionary ideas contained in the “Talks,” McDougall suggests we may acquire the necessary analytical tools for a more fruitful investigation into contemporary Chinese literature.

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Utopian Ruins
A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era
Jie Li
Duke University Press, 2020
In Utopian Ruins Jie Li traces the creation, preservation, and elision of memories about China's Mao era by envisioning a virtual museum that reckons with both its utopian yearnings and its cataclysmic reverberations. Li proposes a critical framework for understanding the documentation and transmission of the socialist past that mediates between nostalgia and trauma, anticipation and retrospection, propaganda and testimony. Assembling each chapter like a memorial exhibit, Li explores how corporeal traces, archival documents, camera images, and material relics serve as commemorative media. Prison writings and police files reveal the infrastructure of state surveillance and testify to revolutionary ideals and violence, victimhood and complicity. Photojournalism from the Great Leap Forward and documentaries from the Cultural Revolution promoted faith in communist miracles while excluding darker realities, whereas Mao memorabilia collections, factory ruins, and memorials at trauma sites remind audiences of the Chinese Revolution's unrealized dreams and staggering losses.

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