HST3150/3151: Mao and the Making of Twentieth-Century China

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr Tehyun Ma



A pass in at least two history modules at level two.


Module Summary

In 2015, citizens in Henan Province erected a 120-foot gold statue of Mao Zedong, which was swiftly torn down on government orders. Why does Mao still provoke such strong feelings? To some he is a monster: history's greatest mass murderer. But recently historians have painted a richer picture of Mao's China, trying to understand its social character, political culture, and role in Cold War rivalries. Focusing on the origins, character, and legacy of Maoist rule, and devoting most of our attention to the period between the declaration of the People’s Republic in 1949 and Mao's death in 1976, we will use translated primary sources, a rich visual culture, and a burgeoning scholarly literature to explore Maoist thought and its critics; major upheavals like the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution; and everyday life under 'Communism with Chinese characteristics'.


The module will aim to develop your critical abilities in analysing source material, evaluating secondary literature, and articulating their own arguments in written work and seminar discussion: all parts of the QAA benchmark for a BA History degree. You will develop an understanding of older work on the People's Republic in the social science tradition while also dealing with the newer scholarship that explores Mao's China through microhistorical studies, transnational prisms, and cultural history. Key questions include the origins of Communist power, the relationship of ideology to practice, Mao's place in the regime, the social and cultural dynamics of Maoism, and the legacy of Maoist rule in the 'Reform Era'. Although Mao himself provides an organizing hook for the module, you will be encouraged to see his position as contingent rather than given, and discussion will assess his importance to the emergence, functioning, and reconstruction of the PRC. You will be challenged to draw together political, social, economic, and cultural history to make sense of the period and its source material, and will develop your confidence in articulating ideas in both oral and written form.

Teaching and Assessment

Weekly seminars will enable you to acquire a broad knowledge of the origins, course, and legacy of Mao's China. Core reading, further reading, and formative student presentations will equip you with a critical understanding of the historiography. Secondary literature will help you contextualise a wide body of translated primary sources on the Mao era. Seminars will be used to provide you with the opportunity to test and refine your own interpretations of primary sources and historiographical debate, while formative essays, source analysis, and other work will prepare the class for the summative assessment.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3

Selected Reading

  • To follow. 

Intended Learning Outcomes
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