Recent historiography of the People’s Republic of China, 1949-46

Twentieth Century Communism - ISSN 1758-6437
Volume 2011 Number 3

Recent historiography of the People’s Republic of China, 1949-46
Stephen Smith pages -


The way that historians – increasingly in the PRC, as well as in the West, Japan and Taiwan – write the master narrative of political and social developments in Mao’s China has changed significantly over the past twenty years. Little is now left of the old narrative punctuated by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; instead the new capstone is the famine that was engendered by the Great Leap Forward, now seen as the critical moment when millions lost faith in the CCP. The article discusses the recent historiography of the 1950s, still seen as a decade in which Mao and the CCP garnered considerable popular support, but no longer as a ‘golden age’. Recent historiography also tends to put greater emphasis on the political changes of the early 1960s, seen as a necessary response to the devastation of the famine. Overall, the new narrative is far bleaker than the old, far more critical of the violence, corruption and arbitrariness of the regime and far more emphatic about the vast human costs of the Maoist experiments. Particular attention is paid to the very recent revitalization of history writing in the PRC, not least as a result of intellectual exchange with Chinese historians in the USA, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Most of the shift in perspective comes about as a result of increased knowledge of the period, but it can also be seen as part of a shift away from sympathy for revolutions in general within the academy.

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To cite this article
Stephen Smith (2011) Recent historiography of the People’s Republic of China, 1949-46, Twentieth Century Communism, 2011(3), -

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