Culture, revolution, and the times of history: Mao and 20th-Century China

Rebecca E. Karl

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


    The recent spate of English-language exposés of Mao Zedong, most prominently that written by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, seems to announce a culmination of the tendency towards the temporal-spatial conflation of 20th-century Chinese and global history. This sense was only confirmed when the New York Times reported in late January that George W. Bush's most recent bedtime reading is Mao: The Unknown Story, or when, last month, according to a column in the British paper The Guardian, "the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly voted to condemn the "crimes of totalitarian communist regimes," linking them with Nazism..." The conflation, then, is of the long history of the Chinese revolution with the Cultural Revolution, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, of Mao Zedong with every one of the most despicable of the 20th century's many tyrants and despots. In these conflations, general 20th-century evil has been reduced to a complicit right-wing/left-wing madness, while China's 20th century has been reduced to the ten years during which this supposed principle of madness operated as a revolutionary tyranny in its teleologically ordained fashion. In this way are the dreams of some China ideologues realized: China becomes one central node through which the trends of the 20th century as a global era are concentrated, channelled and magnified. China is global history, by becoming a particular universalized analytic principle, in the negative sense. That is, universality becomes a conflationary negative principle.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)693-699
    Number of pages7
    JournalChina Quarterly
    Issue number187
    StatePublished - Sep 2006

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Development
    • Political Science and International Relations


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