What Have Historians Been Arguing About... Chinese history?

Teaching History feature

By Rana Mitter, published 13th July 2022

Teaching Chinese history in the UK runs up against some immediate obstacles. It lacks the familiar staging posts of European history: Chairman Mao is among the few well-known names, and terms such as Cultural Revolution and Opium War may attract recognition, but are often not understood in detail. The situation has improved: a generation ago there was almost no Chinese history in the school curriculum; now it does appear much more frequently. But reasons of time, space and resources mean that great riches beyond many of the standard topics do not make it into school curricula.

One of the standard topics, inevitably, is the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and of Mao Zedong’s rise to power and ultimate victory in 1949. It is a story vitally important for global history, and an exciting, if often tragic, one too. Yet one of the major changes in academic history of China in recent years has been a move away from a concentration on the Chinese Communist revolution to other areas of Chinese history. This might seems surprising, since so much of that story seems central to the general understanding of this period. In fact, the turn has been driven by the importance, to the Party, of its own history...

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