Week 10: Founding the PRC and Planning a New Society

Oct. 26 – Nov. 1

The return of the Exploration Packs! I hope to keep them light yet interesting. Let me know how that works out for you. I had only 1 response to the Google form questionnaire I sent out last week (thank you!) so I guess nobody is feeling too bad about the course or I would have heard about it by now 😅. Still, you can drop anonymous comments at the Typepad, if you don’t want to do it with your name attached via email, video or other format.

Module 4 (part 2/3): War and Revolution

If you thought that with the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), we finally could leave all the war and struggle behind us, and march happily into socialist paradise, you’re in for some disappointment. One of Mao’s key theoretical points is the idea of continuous revolution and struggle. So… that’s what we’ll see this week and the next: ever increasing attempts towards creating permanent revolution.

Speaking of permanent revolution, there is another chance to reflect on your learning in the course so far. For those of you who haven’t got feedback yet on round one, that’s on my to-do list for this week so you can incorporate that before you dive into the new one. The questions are different, though, please read them carefully. Details in the Assignments section below.

Zoom question of the week

For those who need a central topic to be lured out to the optional Zoom session (with breakout rooms): if you were to find yourself at the head of a new state, and you could design a completely new system, how would you go about it? Bear in mind that the Chinese had gone through decades of intermittent and at times quite heavy warfare, so resources were scant. But what they lacked in resources, they made up for in determinism and optimism, it seems. How can you create a new state from scratch? Let’s discuss the opportunities and limitations!

As always, you can bring all your other questions and discussion topics, too!

Table of Contents

Background

The Korean War came before the PRC’s first birthday. According to many it was total folly to throw a dirt poor country that had only just come out of a civil war into a new international war (even if it was through the clever ruse of using “volunteers”, so it was technically not an escalation) The success of the Chinese troops in pushing back the UN (mainly US) troops to the 48 parallel showed the US that China was an enemy to be taken seriously, because the revolutionary zeal made up for a lot of what was lacking in more sophisticated weapons.

This was also the period when the PRC and the USSR were as close as they’d be – but at the time the Sino-Soviet split (which would better be termed “slow unravelling” from 1956 to 1966-ish) was of course not yet anything anyone in the West could really imagine. Still, not all communist countries were (or are) alike, and there were severe disagreements about interpretation of theory, and implementation of ideas. But close cooperation between the Chinese and Russian bloc was of course a nightmare from a US point of view.

This time period also includes multiple campaigns against rightist and capitalist elements in society that need to be rooted out (at least from Mao’s point of view), and culminated in attempts to flush out right-wing elements among the intellectual elite following a campaign known as the Hundred Flowers. This started off as a request for feedback, but quickly turned sour. (I can see why some students fear giving honest feedback to their professors but I’m not like this!) We end this week’s materials right before the start of the Great Leap Forward. And that is just because Spence has to split things up somewhere. As I pointed out above, Mao is all about the idea of permanent revolution…

The problem is then that a lot of innocent people get swept up in that permanent revolution. This is where “communism” gets its bad name. Communism is actually an economic system, and is not the opposite of democracy, but the opposite of capitalism. Politically speaking, the PRC under Mao’s leadership was an authoritarian regime, which in name was a “democracy of the people” through the CCP, but in reality was more or less Mao’s rule, and with strong with elements of fascism – if you follow the idea that fascism is not an ideology, but a technique of government. (It is much easier to think of fascism that way)

Readings

Basic set

Use this to make sense of the material in the Exploration pack (i.e. Exploration Pack probably doesn’t need the textbook alternatives), but for all explorations packs I highly recommend exploring the Chinese Posters website. Learn more about the connection between art and politics on this website from Brigham Young University’s Kennedy Center

Textbook alternatives:

  • Moïse Edwin E. Modern China: A History Third ed. Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman, 2008. (ebook Trexler):Chapters 6
  • Dillon, Michael. China: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010. (ebook Trexler): Chapters 11-12

Exploration Pack 1: Good Old Textbook

For the fans of the “easy all in one” approach who like the full overview, but a bit heavier on the page count, here’s old faithful: the textbook!

  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. Third ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
    • Chapters 19 and 20 (“The Birth of the People’s Republic” and “Planning the New Society”)
  • “A-Bombs and Paper Tigers.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. (PDF) #mao #propaganda #rhetoric
    • Mao’s blustering rhetoric should make us pause: was he serious? But after the Korean War, with it’s “human wave” tactics, it was clear that he was prepared to sacrifice huge swathes of his population to achieve his political aims.
  • Check out the various campaigns mentioned at the Chinese Posters website.

Exploration Pack 2: Relations with the USSR

If you’re curious to understand how Chinese communism was different from the USSR’s version, look no further than the 1956 “secret speech” of Khrushchev. But read first the Friendship treaty that was concluded with the USSR mere months after the founding of the PRC.

  • “Treaty with the Soviet Union.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. (PDF) #international-relations #USSR #stalin #communist-bloc
    • Best friends forever, right? Right… Read on in the next bullet point:
  • Shen, Zhihua, and Yafeng Xia. Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945-1959 : A New History. The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015. #international-relations #USSR #Khrushchev #sino-soviet-split
    • (PDF) [Note there is a section in the middle to skip.] This chapter lays out the details of the reasons Mao and Khrushchev began to diverge. The facile explanation is that Khrushchev denounced Stalin, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that. What he said had subtle but real consequences for Mao’s position on the international scene, as Mao had begun to develop a reputation as a thinker, as well as a revolutionary. Ideological positions mattered (and still matter!) a great deal to communist regimes, and this text explains in some detail how this all works. It’s fascinating if you’re into politics, ideology and want to understand a bit more about how Mao ended up going into the ideological direction he went.
  • Check out the Chinese Posters website, and run a search on Stalin, Lenin, or Russia, in addition to the theme “Soviet Union

Exploration Pack 3: The Korean War

The Korean war was brief action, followed by about 2 years of stalemate. A peace treaty was never signed. Just the other day, the PRC celebrated the 70th anniversary of China entering the Korean war — although officially of course its troops never participated, and it was a volunteer army. There are a wealth of video clips on Academic Video Online (or Alexander Street), including newsreels from the period, and documentaries. I include only a few here, as well as a chapter on how the Chinese used psychological warfare on US prisoners of war.

  • Newsclip Dec. 11, 1950: US and S Koreans have been pushed back at this point after having almost occupied the entire Korean peninsula, but Chinese troops had joined Korean ones at this point (as volunteers)
  • Newsclip April 13, 1953: An exchange of prisoners at the end of the war
  • “Chapter 4″ Winning Captive Hearts”. In McKnight, Brian Dallas. We Fight for Peace : Twenty-Three American Soldiers, Prisoners of War, and “Turncoats” in the Korean War. INSERT-MISSING-SERVICE-NAME. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2014.
    • Ebook Trexler
    • Psychological warfare of the kind the Chinese used was something these soldiers were not prepared for. Some succumbed, and then began to spread the Chinese communist ideas among their fellow POWs. The chapter explains how that was possible, but note that it also contains descriptions of physical torture, and various deprevations.
  • More posters on the Korean war than you can shake a stick at. (Search for “Korea” as well)

Exploration Pack 4: Dissidents

As I pointed out before, the issue with communist states is not so much the communism as a form of economic system (with the means of production owned by the masses/laborers), but the state using authoritarian or even fascist methods of government to force everyone to follow along. If you disagree, there is a whole plethora of labels to put on you: “capitalist roader” and “rightist” are among the most common, but “enemy of the people” is of course always useful as well.

  • “Mao: On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.
    • In this excerpt of his writings, Mao explains how (in theory at least) one should go about accepting some criticism but not other, because one should differentiate between what is a genuine critique to improve the system, and what will only undermine one’s efforts. People used this speech to provide “constructive feedback” (as we would call it), following Mao’s suggestion to let ideas compete so that the best would float to the top. However, before long, this was interpreted not as constructive feedback but as negative critique. I guess they never heard of the Architect’s Model we practice… #government #authoritarianism #theory #communism
  • Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
    • (PDF) This is an excerpt of an autobiography, and I have selected the chapters that document the same time period as the Hundred Flowers and the subsequence campaign against the rightists. Jung’s father was an important official in the communist party, an honest an incorruptible man (as his wife put it: a good communist but a terrible husband). Her family got swept up in all the plots and machinations of the highest level power politics, not because they were important or high-level, but because party policy required quotas to be met of a certain percentage of rightists in ever official’s jurisdiction, or because one small mistake could land you on the list of wrongdoers. #campaigns #politics #mass-movements #dissidents #autobiography
    • Jung Chang’s perspective is not neutral: her family clearly suffered from Mao’s policies and she settled accounts with him in the biography Mao: The Untold Story. But she is not alone in remembering the Mao years in this way. We’ll see more next week, when we look at the great famine and the Cultural Revolution.
  • There are quite a few campaigns under the Themes tab on the Chinese Posters website where you can find illustrations; look at the dates to be in the right ball park and begin to explore.

Assignments

Reminder: Peer feedback on post Week 9

3 points, due Mon. Oct. 26 by 11.59pm

Ok, you know the drill, and why reading other’s posts is good for you… Below you find links to four blog posts from your fellow students. If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person’s, refresh the page, and you should get new sites.

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Post 3:
  • Post 4:

Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students using Hypothes.is group HST271. You can ask for clarifications, point out similarities and differences with the material you covered, or with your interpretation. This should encourage you to nose around in the other materials you did not read in the first round.

Use the “Architect’s Model” of giving feedback, and engage with concrete issues. Go beyond “Yeah, I agree,” “I like” or “I think the same”, and instead explain why you have that reaction, or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea or interpretation.

Remember that Hypothes.is allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes! [yes, there she is again]), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

When you’ve commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

Declaration
– I commented on four fellow students’ initial posts on the readings from Week 9, using the group HST271.
– I made sure to leave substantial comments that move the discussion forward and help to create better insights, and go beyond a “nice” or “great”.
– I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Blog post

5 points, due by Thursday, Oct. 29. 11.59pm.

Write a blog post exploring themes or ideas based on your reading. You do not need to have all the answers. In fact, learning to ask good analytical or research questions is a skill you can develop during the semester.

  • Length: approx. 400 words. excl. list of materials consulted.
  • Add the list of materials consulted at the end of the post, in Chicago notes and bibliography style.
    • TOP TIP: Just copy the bibliography information from the Reading list here.
    • Don’t include the (PDF) or the #hashtags – those are just there to help you
  • Add the words “Week 10” in the title (please use this exact phrase, or it trips up the filter I created to have your posts show up in the blog stream)
  • Include an image, and make sure to add a caption with the source/credit.
  • Post on your website, and add to the category hst271.

When you’re done, read this declaration carefully and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

Declaration
– I wrote a post of approximately 400 words in response to the readings.
– I included the bibliographic references for the materials I used for my post.
– I indicated which materials I used
– I included an image, and I provided a caption and credit (source) for the image.
– I use the words Week 10 in the title, and added the post to category hst271

Larger reflection 2

WHEN: Friday, Oct. 30, 11.59PM

WHAT: 500-800 words

We’re two-thirds through the semester (slightly more), so time to stop and take stock once again! The main task of the reflections is to think about your work and learning in the course from a higher perspective than the immediate course contents and “nose to the grindstone” approach we have in the week-to-week rhythm with the assignments, or the focus on the contents in the “Show and Tell” projects.

Here are some questions and prompts to get you thinking about your learning and thinking, i.e.: they are “meta-cognitive” (from the ancient Greek, meaning “about/above your knowledge/thinking”) – illustrate with concrete examples but draw out the bigger picture conclusions. Engage with at least 2 of the following :

  • “When I look back at the start of the semester, and what I felt, knew and did then, and I compare to what I know, feel and do now for this course, I ….” [fill out as appropriate]
  • “Am I doing what is necessary to get beyond the surface meaning of the course materials, and able to communicate effectively my ideas about complex historical ideas? What can I do to still improve in my approach to sources, assignments, and attitude to become a better historian?” (Trust me, there is is always room for improvement, even for professionals after a decades-long career.)
  • This course does not have exams, but uses frequent blog posts and other projects to share your learning with your classmates. How does that format help or hinder you to explore new knowledge and demonstrate what you learned?
    Does the unfamiliar format make you feel unsure, or do you feel liberated now you don’t have to write a traditional essay?
  • What are skills, techniques or insights and perspectives you learned in this course so far (contents or otherwise) that you feel you can apply in other courses, or even outside college?

WHY: You can compare with your previous reflection, and see if you followed up on what you identified as strengths, or areas to work on, and how that translates into improved insights and performance or confidence in the course or other areas.

HOW: Write as a blog post, or as a Word or Google doc file, and submit on Canvas in this assignment. (Note: not a declaration quiz). You can submit a URL, or upload a document in docx, pdf, rtf, doc, txt format.

Peer feedback on post Week 10

3 points, due Mon. Oct. 26 by 11.59pm

Ok, you know the drill, and why reading other’s posts is good for you… Below you find links to four blog posts from your fellow students. If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person’s, refresh the page, and you should get new sites.

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Post 3:
  • Post 4:

Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students using Hypothes.is group HST271. You can ask for clarifications, point out similarities and differences with the material you covered, or with your interpretation. This should encourage you to nose around in the other materials you did not read in the first round.

Use the “Architect’s Model” of giving feedback, and engage with concrete issues. Go beyond “Yeah, I agree,” “I like” or “I think the same”, and instead explain why you have that reaction, or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea or interpretation.

Remember that Hypothes.is allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes! [yes, there she is again]), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

When you’ve commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

Declaration
– I commented on four fellow students’ initial posts on the readings from Week 10, using the group HST271.
– I made sure to leave substantial comments that move the discussion forward and help to create better insights, and go beyond a “nice” or “great”.
– I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Feedback on Show and Tell project 3

Not graded, but part of the “Participation in the Learning commons/Professionalism”

Below you’ll find links to two Show and Tell projects from fellow students. Please share your feedback with them, for instance:

  • what do you like about the format?
  • what did or did not quite work?
  • what helped you understand this particular period of Chinese history better?
  • what suggestions do you have for a make-over/redo?
    • you can re-submit your Show and Tell project anytime before the close of the semester for a better grade; think of the kind of advice you’d like to get to help you achieve that!
  • do you think the project can help future students, and should I use it next time I run the course?

Leave your comments on the blog-post either as a page note in the Hypothes.is group HST271 or if you can annotate the text itself, highlight and mark up with Hypothes.is.

If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person’s, refresh the page, and you should get new sites.

  • Project 1
  • Project 1

Extra credit tasks

Sorry folks, not this week. Keep your eyes peeled for next week!

Where to ask questions

Remember that it is highly likely that you are not the only one with that question. Save me time, and help your fellow students by asking questions where others can see them. If you know the answer to a question, jump in! I can’t be everywhere all the time.

Missing link? Wrong information? Email me! “See something? Say something!”