Course Code


Course Name

Selected Themes on Chinese History: The Cultural Revolution


Tues 10:30-13:15


WMY 405


Mr. William Moriarty

Teaching Assistant

Mavis Siu

Course Description

In the recent resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the Communist Party of China (CCP) over the past century, the CCP reaffirmed its previous complete renunciation of the Cultural Revolution in 1981. Asserting that the movement was ‘an extremely bitter lesson’, the new resolution asserts that Mao Zedong’s mistakes and the many crimes of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing ‘brought disaster to the country and the people, resulting in ten years of domestic turmoil which caused the Party, the country, and the people to suffer the most serious losses and setbacks since the founding of the People’s Republic’. This class examines the origins, course, and legacy of the Cultural Revolution and attempts to assess the history of the period through the thematic study of primary and secondary sources.

Course Outline

Week 1—Introduction: The Chinese Revolution (6 September)
Introduction to the course and its themes. Overview of a century of Chinese revolution from the Taiping Rebellion to the Chinese Civil War. Historiography of the Cultural Revolution.

Week 2—Origins of the Cultural Revolution (13 September)
The rise of Mao Zedong as the leader of the CCP and his influence on governance and ideology. Focus on historiography: great-(wo)man history.

Week 3—Causes of the Cultural Revolution (20 September)
The fallout after the Sino-Soviet split and Great Leap Forward. Mao’s marginalisation. The break-up of the Yan’an Leadership. Mao’s comeback. Focus on historiography: memoirs.

Week 4—The First Act: Hai Rui Dismissed from Office (27 September)
The outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in Beijing. The rise of the Red Guards. Focus on historiography: local history.

Week 5—Chaos in the Halls of Culture: Campuses Join the Revolution (11 October) The spread of the movement across the country’s schools and its effects on education. Focus on historiography: institutional history.

Week 6—Culture of Violence: Rise and Fall of the Red Guards (18 October)
An examination of factionalism and violence. The role of the military in restoring order. Focus on historiography: social and political history.

Week 7—Attack on Bourgeois Culture: The Four Olds (25 October)
Focus on historiography: gender and cultural history.

Week 8—Cult of Personality: Mao as a Cultural Icon (1 November)
An investigation in political religion and the cult of personality. Focus on historiography: material culture and history.

Week 9—Down to the Countryside: Urban Youth Get Cultured (8 November)
A study of the rustication of urban youth and the lost generation. Focus on historiography.

Week 10—Struggle for Succession: A Fractured Political Culture (15 November)
The rise and fall of Lin Biao. The Gang of Four. Zhou Enlai. The return of Deng Xiaoping. Focus on historiography: diplomatic history.

Week 11—The Final Act: Mao’s Death and the Arrest of the Gang of Four (22 November) The death of Zhou Enlai. The arrest of the Gang of Four. The Death of Mao. Focus on historiography: microhistory and legal history.

Week 12—Remembering the Cultural Revolution (29 November)
Scar literature. Selective remembering and forgetting of the past. Reconciliation of conflicting memories. Focus on historiography: nostalgia and trauma.

Week 13—Legacy of the Cultural Revolution (6 December)
Popular, official and global legacies of the Cultural Revolution in the world today. Focus on historiography: global history.

Assessment & Assignments

Assessment in this course consists of the following four elements:
1. Participation (20%): This item is based on attendance and contribution to class discussions. I recommend that you come to each session prepared with one question about one of the readings.

2. Essay and In-class Presentation (30%): Each student will present one essay and oral précis on a required reading during the term. This item will become a regular segment in the course, beginning in Week 3 (see the items marked with an ‘*’ in the course schedule). Each session, two students will separately write one 1,000-word essay (15%) on a required reading and submit their work in Word format, along with the VeriGuide receipt, to the instructor and TA by Friday at 5.00 p.m. We will then share the two essays with the entire class, and everyone will be expected to read and discuss the ideas therein on Tuesday. In class, each essayist will use PowerPoint to present an oral précis (15%) on their respective reading and essay, followed by group discussion of their arguments, and the other reading for the week.

3. Paper (50%): This final project will be a 4,000-word research paper on the Cultural Revolution. Due 15 December, you must email your paper in Word format, along with the VeriGuide receipt, to the instructor and TA no later than 6.00 p.m. The paper should present a clear thesis, demonstrate knowledge of secondary literature in the field, and integrate primary sources into the argument. To this end, you will submit your research topic, question, and problem by week four, as well as your thesis statement, introduction, outline, and bibliography by week eight. After each submission, we will schedule a consultation to discuss your project.

The essay must include your full name, student ID number, instructor name, course code, and submission date at the top left-hand corner of the first page in single-spaced lines, followed by a double space with the document’s title centred in the middle of the page. Subsequent pages should have your last name and page number on the right-hand side of the page header. The body of the document should use the following format: 12-point Times New Roman font, 1- inch margins, double-spaced lines, and a word count at the end. For citations, use The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) or Kate L. Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (8th ed.).

The final paper should follow either the Chicago or Turabian guides on matters of style, usage, and citation. Further information on this assignment will be posted on Blackboard and discussed in class. The course outline is subject to change.

Assessment for this course follows the Centre’s grade descriptors for MA in Chinese Studies. Each assignment will be worth 100 points. Late submission of any assignment will result in a penalty of one-half grade per day after the due date.

At the end of term, the marks for each assignment will be weighted according to their value in the assessment scheme above, and the total number of marks will be converted into a letter grade using the Centre’s marks-to-grade conversion table. For further details on assessment standards, please refer to the Centre’s grade descriptors on Blackboard.

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of the policies, regulations and procedures.