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It is common to portray the early years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – from 1949 to the late 1970s – as a period of China’s isolation from the rest of the world. China only re-joined the global order, we are often told, with the changes introduced in the “reform era” from the 1980s onwards. Yet, the fact is that, its opposition to the United States (and later the Soviet Union) notwithstanding, China under Mao Zedong was a global force in its own right, seeking, often successfully, to challenge, shape and influence the organizational structure of the “world” in many different corners of the globe. Equally important, despite the current Chinese regime’s selective representations of the country’s recent past, the legacy of Maoist China continues to cast its considerable shadow in myriad ways over the country.

This class will examine in some detail the histories of those foundational years of the People’s Republic, assess both its achievements and setbacks, and explore how those decades of work paved the way for China’s “rise” in more recent times. For all the breathtaking transformations of the last generation, the relationship between Maoist and contemporary China is rather more complicated and nuanced than a simple narrative of rupture in the 1980s would suggest. Understanding Maoist China, in short, is an indispensable tool if one wants to fully grasp the current predicament and the prospects of the People’s Republic in the twenty-first century. HS, BN.