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Beyond Teleological and Mao-Centered History: The Beginning of the Cultural Revolution Reconsidered

April 10, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Yiching Wu
Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto
April 10, 4:00 pm
509 O’Brian Hall (Law School Conference Room), UB North Campus
UB Confucius Institute/Department of History Lecture
Free and open to the public

Why and how Mao Zedong initiated a great upheaval during the last years of his rule remains perhaps the single greatest puzzle in the crisis-ridden history of the People’s Republic of China. Existing literature on how the Cultural Revolution began has usually foregrounded Mao’s political and ideological agency, as if all history could be explained by being traced back to a single very powerful individual. And the major events leading up to the Cultural Revolution have been construed to form parts of the Machiavellian scheme by Mao and his close associates, and thus reduced to the Chairman’s preconceived intent or instrumental action. In this talk I will reconsider the opening moment of Mao’s last revolutionary endeavor and the critical events leading up to it, with the aim of developing an understanding of how the great turmoil erupted in ways less dependent on teleological and Mao-centered premises and more sensitive to overdetermined context, processual contingency, and path-dependent interaction.

Yiching Wu teaches East Asian Studies, modern Chinese history, and anthropology at the University of Toronto. An anthropologist trained at the University of Chicago, his research focuses on the history, society, and politics of Mao’s China, in particular during the Cultural Revolution. His main scholarly interests include historical anthropology, critical social theory, populism and social protest, modern Chinese history, Chinese socialism and post-socialism, and politics of historical knowledge. He is currently working on two book-length projects about China’s late 1960s, on the demobilization of Cultural Revolution mass politics and the contradictory role of Mao during the Cultural Revolution, respectively.


April 10, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm