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A Social History of Maoist China
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Book description

When the Chinese communists came to power in 1949, they promised to 'turn society upside down'. Efforts to build a communist society created hopes and dreams, coupled with fear and disillusionment. The Chinese people made great efforts towards modernization and social change in this period of transition, but they also experienced traumatic setbacks. Covering the period 1949 to 1976 and then tracing the legacy of the Mao era through the 1980s, Felix Wemheuer focuses on questions of class, gender, ethnicity, and the urban-rural divide in this new social history of Maoist China. He analyzes the experiences of a range of social groups under Communist rule - workers, peasants, local cadres, intellectuals, 'ethnic minorities', the old elites, men and women. To understand this tumultuous period, he argues, we must recognize the many complex challenges facing the People's Republic. But we must not lose sight of the human suffering and political terror that, for many now ageing quietly across China, remain the period's abiding memory.


‘Thoughtful, informed by a wealth of Chinese-language sources, and analytically penetrating, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand Maoist China. The social history of the Mao years is one of the most exciting new fields of Chinese history, and this book gives a comprehensive account of that period from one of its most impressive analysts.'

Rana Mitter - University of Oxford

‘This is a tour-de-force, a concise, balanced, and humane account of the first three chaotic decades of Communist rule in China. It shows the scale of change and disruption on women, peasants, workers, migrants, youth, and ethnic groups. Biographies, slogans, documents and posters give the book immediacy and authenticity.'

Diana Lary - University of British Columbia

‘Richly textured and analytically astute, the book makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the social history of one of the most tumultuous episodes of modern China. Wemheuer's unparalleled command of both the vast scholarly literature and the primary sources is an inspiration to other researchers in the field.'

Yiching Wu - University of Toronto

'This book is a superb reference guide for scholars of Maoist China and social history more generally. A highly readable history … is essential material for anyone seeking to understand more fully the specific mechanisms of the Maoist party-state and, more broadly, contemporary Chinese history.'

Matthew Galway Source: H-Net Reviews

'This is a must read for the study of the social history of modern China…Essential.'

A. Y. Lee Source: Choice

‘It is social history at its best and most insightful, including and interweaving political, cultural, economic, and intellectual history throughout. Social history of this calibre is a reminder that every historian ought to be a social historian, regardless of their thematic focus or the questions they are interested in.’

Jennifer Altehenger Source: Family & Community History

‘Readable, arresting, and broad in scope, A Social History of Maoist China will be as valuable an addition to undergraduate syllabi as to the bookshelves of PRC historians.’

Nicholas R. Zeller Source: Pacific Affairs

‘The book is wonderfully balanced … a remarkable achievement.’

Jacob Eyferth Source: International Review of Social History

‘… a comprehensive survey of the development of Chinese society in 1949–1976, as well as a balanced assessment of both the failures and achievements-such as increased life expectancy and literacy-of Maoist China.’

Woyu Liu Source: Europe-Asia Studies

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  • 1 - Chinese Society under Mao: Classifications, Social Hierarchies and Distribution
    pp 15-47


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