Michel Paul Emile BONNIN

Adjunct Professor

PhD, History and Civilisations, EHESS (Institute of Higher Studies in Social Sciences), Paris

Driven by an interest in Chinese civilisation as well as in its recent history, and unable to go to Beijing because of the Cultural Revolution, I arrived in Hong Kong at the beginning of the 1970s, determined to study China from this special observatory. After a few years, I was able to travel to mainland China, but before that, China came to me under the guise of young people of my age who had been Red Guards and rusticated youths, before swimming across to Hong Kong: a wonderful opportunity to practice one of the first examples of oral history of that generation and produce a book published in France. Back to Paris, I had the chance to be recruited by one of the best institutes for historians in France, the EHESS. Since then, I stubbornly married patient scholarly research of written sources and direct contact with people of the Chinese “Lost Generation”, in order to produce a global history of the Maoist Rustication movement which tried to understand the rationale of the regime without neglecting the experience of the people involved. In the 1990s, when I came back to Hong Kong, where I founded the CEFC (French Centre for Contemporary China Studies) and the magazine China Perspectives, I had the opportunity to travel and do research on the mainland regularly during the whole decade. Finally, I had the opportunity to become the director of the Sino-French Studies Centre in Beijing’s Tsinghua University from 2011 to 2014. Having retired from the EHESS, I then moved again to Hong Kong in 2015 to teach the history of the very movement which had forced me to come here instead of going to Beijing. A derailment which, in fact, I never regretted, since I was able all along those decades to enjoy the specific advantages of Hong Kong in research and in teaching.

Research Interests:

  • history of the People’s Republic of China
  • state and society relations
  • Chinese Cultural Revolution
  • history of Hong Kong

Representative Publications

Books and Edited Volumes


The Lost Generation: The Rustication of China’s Educated Youth (1968-1980), Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 515 p. {French original published in 2004, Chinese versions published in 2009 (Hong Kong) and 2010 (Beijing)}.


Le tremblement de terre de Pékin (The Peking Earthquake), Paris, Gallimard, 589 p. (with J.P. Béja and A. Peyraube)


Le Printemps de Pékin (Peking Spring), Paris, Gallimard (coll. Archives), 250 p.


Avoir 20 ans en Chine…à la campagne (Being Twenty in China…in the Countryside), Paris, Le Seuil, 181 p.

Journal Articles & Book Chapters


“Suzao ‘Xinren’ de shibai shiyan: shangshan xiaxiang wushinian ji” (A Failed Attempt at Forging the ‘New Man’: for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Rustication Movement), Ershiyi shiji, Hong Kong, N° 171, February, p. 98-109 (in Chinese)


“Popular Memories and Popular History, Indispensable Tools for Understanding Contemporary Chinese History: The Case of the End of the Rustication Movement”, in S. Veg, ed., Popular Memories of the Mao Era – From Critical Debate to Reassessing History, Hong Kong University Press, p. 220-234.


“Restricted, Distorted but Alive: the Memory of the Lost Generation of Chinese Rusticated Youth”, The China Quarterly, September, n° 227, p. 752-772.


“Servant, Bogeyman or Goddess: Democracy in the Discourses of Power and Dissidence in China”, in M. Delmas-Marty and P.E. Will eds, China, Democracy and Law : A Historical and Contemporary Approach, Leiden & Boston, Brill,  2012, p. 541-567.


“The Threatened History and Collective Memory of the Cultural Revolution’s Lost Generation”, China Perspectives, n° 72, 2007/4, p. 52-64.


“The ‘Lost Generation’: Its Definition and its Role in Today’s Chinese Elite Politics”, Social Research – An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, vol. 73 n° 1, Spring, p. 245-274.


“Shangshan xiaxiang zai pingjia” (Reevaluation of the Rustication Movement), Shehuixue yanjiu, n° 5, p. 154-181.


“Perspectives on Social Stability After the Fifteenth Congress”, in Tien Hung-Mao & Chu Yun-han, eds, China under Jiang Zemin, Boulder, London, Lynne Rienner Publishers, p. 153-161.


“The Intellectual and the State: Social Dynamics of Intellectual Autonomy during the Post-Mao Era”, in Brian Hook ed., The Individual and the State in China, Oxford, Clarendon Press, p. 149-174 (with Y. Chevrier).


“Urban Employment in Post-Maoist China”, in S. Feuchtwang et al. ed., China’s Economy in the Eighties, London, Zed Books, vol.1, p. 198-221 (with M. Cartier)

Courses Offered

CHES5105 Selected Themes on Chinese History – The Cultural Revolution