It is difficult to understand China today without understanding the China of Mao Zedong. Over the course of Mao’s lifetime China experienced imperial rule, warlordism, republicanism, and ultimately communism. The country experienced invasion, civil war, and famine. And through this all, Mao led an insurgent movement that allowed China to “stand on its own two legs.” Governing, however, was at least as challenging as making revolution. This challenge to Mao would be summed by the official assessment of Mao after his death: Mao was a great revolutionary leader, but made mistakes governing China.
This course examines the grand sweep of 20th Century Chinese history through the lens of Mao’s life – a life that was complex and often contradictory, but one that ultimately left a lasting legacy for today’s China. The meaning of Mao and Maoism is contested by historians of modern China, but all would not argue with a Time Magazine assessment several years ago that he was among the 20th Century’s most significant historical figures. The course also will examine this historical legacy to surface the meaning of Mao in today’s China – a China that resonates with Maoist goals, namely a country of wealth and power, but differ significantly in the social and cultural means towards those ends.