On the Chinese Cultural Revolution: Thought Exercises for the Twenty-First Century

October 9, 2021 9:00 am


October 9, 2021 9:00 am


October 9, 2021 10:30 am


Membership Not Required

China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is now roughly sixty years in the past. Its sheer scale makes the Cultural Revolution unique. Even as it has been acknowledged in China and abroad, the volume and severity of its purges, censorship, and social engineering campaigns are still largely misapprehended. Significant aspects of this historical event and its aftermath are still largely unknown to the general reading public and scholars alike. This panel gathers writers who have recently tackled the Cultural Revolution in academic and public-facing writing to share their insights into its intricacies, its cultural landscapes, and the challenges of truth-telling that arise in connecting the personal to the political. Our goal is to introduce new work and new thinking on a historical event — a calamity — that was designed to be apprehended slowly, if at all. In the process, we nominate it as one of the most cognitively difficult objects of our time, worth reexamining not only for the sake of justice and the historical record, but also for our collective grasp of contemporary phenomena.


Organized by Nan Da & LARB Humanities Editor Anna Shechtman.


This is a free satellite event of LARB’s Semipublic Intellectual Sessions. 


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Lingchei Letty Chen is Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and currently serves as Chair of East Asian Languages and Cultures Department at Washington University in St. Louis. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her most recent publication is The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years (Cambria Press, Cambria Sinophone World Series, 2020).
Nan Z. Da is an associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Intransitive Encounter (Columbia UP, 2018) and is completing a book called The Chinese Tragedy of King Lear.
Frank Dikötter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. Before 2006 he was Professor of the Modern History of China at the University of London. He has published a dozen books, including a trilogy that documents the impact of communism on the lives of ordinary people in China on the basis of new archival material. The first volume in the People’s Trilogy, entitled Mao’s Great Famine, won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2011. He is also Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and holds an honorary doctorate from Leiden University.
Guo Jian is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He co-authored the Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006, 2015) and co-edited the Database of the Chinese Political Campaigns (Harvard University Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Chinese University of Hong Kong Center for Modern China Studies, 2002–2014). He is also a translator (with Stacy Mosher) of several books, including Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone: the Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and The World Turned Upside Down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), Tan Hecheng’s The Killing Wind: A Chinese County’s Descent into Madness during the Cultural Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2017), and Gao Hua’s How the Red Sun Rose: The Origins and Development of the Yan’an Rectification Movement (Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2018).
Jie Li is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard. In addition to Utopian Ruins, she is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life and co-editor of Red Legacies in China: Afterlives of the Communist Revolution. Her forthcoming book, Cinematic Guerrillas: Maoist Propaganda as Spirit Mediumship, explores film exhibition and reception in socialist China. Li’s writings have appeared in journals such as Grey Room, Screen, positions: asia critique, The Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and Public Culture.