Mining ‘realms of memory’ for alternative histories of Mao’s China

Mining ‘realms of memory’ for alternative histories of Mao’s China

PhD scholarship opportunity at SOAS (University of London) to study Mao-era China with a focus on historical memory.

Principal Supervisor: Dr Andrea Janku (SOAS University of London)

Co-Supervisor: Dr Julia Lovell (Birbeck, University of London)

Project description

In recent years the history of the early decades of the PRC has attracted considerable attention in both Chinese and Western-language historiographies. Standard accounts of ‘liberation’ and the subsequent building of the New China on the one hand and violent coercion and subsequent failed socio-economic experiments on the other are increasingly challenged. Instead questions arise about the ways in which grass-roots experiences of that time might be recovered and used to understand the complexity of historical processes and their continuing impact on present realities. Given the importance of mythologised versions of the past in the current political environment in the PRC, a sophisticated reading of China’s lieux de mémoire – to use Pierre Nora’s concept (1989) – seems to be an urgent task.

As the recovery and preservation of various types of heritage has emerged as an undertaking of considerable proportions (ranging from various forms of preserving old industrial sites to private museums), various ways of collecting oral histories covering the 1950s to 1980s are being explored, and local archives are, if not always easy to get access to, not entirely out of reach, there are ways to transcend the existing streamlined narratives. To explore these, based on the case study of the Third Front campaign of the 1960s/1970s (Wu 2002) is what this project proposes. This massive, secretive project to move strategic industries into remote, mountainous areas of China’s southwestern provinces was at the heart of China’s industrial policies of the time and thus had a huge impact on the country’s further development as well as on the millions of people that were affected by it. Variously described as a failure of colossal scale, more disruptive than the Cultural Revolution for China’s economic development (Naughton 1988), or a positive contribution to the long-term integration of backward provinces through e.g. the construction of railway lines, that was overall successful despite the enormous human cost (Meyskens 2015), an understanding of those events that is more nuanced and less focused on either the economy or political ideologies, but rather focuses on the ways these histories are constructed and on alternative histories that are suppressed at the same time is needed.

The studentship is for a duration of 3 years and will cover course fees (at the usual level for UK and EU studentships) and a student stipend.

Applicants from non-EU countries may apply for this project but will be required to meet the additional costs of overseas fees from other sources.

Subject areas/ keywords

  • Modern Chinese History; Third Front Campaign; lieux de mémoire

Candidate requirements

  • The successful candidate will have a degree in History or a related subject, preferably in combination with Chinese, confident command of Modern Chinese (min. HSK 6 or equivalent), and at least initial experience carrying out archival research and fieldwork in China.


  • The closing date for applications is: 17:00 UK time, Monday, 7 May 2018.

More information

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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