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Birkbeck professor’s book up for major literary prizes

Maoism: A Global History by Professor Julia Lovell has been shortlisted for the Al Rodhan Prize and the Cundhill History Prize, and longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize. 

Cover detail: 'Maoism: A Global History'

A new book by the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology’s Professor Julia Lovell was released this year to critical acclaim and is now in the running for three top prizes.

Maoism: A Global History has been shortlisted for the Al Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, issued by the British Academy, and the 2019 Cundhill History Prize, worth $75,000.

It has also been longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, which rewards excellence in non-fiction writing and aims to bring the best in intelligent reflection on the world to new readers.

Described by the Times as “a history that is revelatory and instructive, without ever being dull,” the book is the first to explore both the global phenomenon of Maoism, examining the movement’s power and appeal far beyond China, and the continued centrality of Mao and his ideas to the People’s Republic and the legitimacy of its Communist government.

Lovell, Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, said: “Maoism is a set of often contradictory ideas and practices that can be attributed to Mao Zedong over the past eighty years. Within the context of Chinese communism, Mao was notable for championing the use of political violence to achieve the revolution - a couple of his most famous catchphrases such as ‘power comes out of the barrel of a gun’ and ‘revolution is not a dinner party’ express this clearly. The realisation of his ideas exacted a huge human cost, especially in China where tens of millions died as a result of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

“Maoism also has a strongly nationalist, non-Western, anti-colonial agenda. Mao argued that Russian communism should be adapted to local, national conditions and he differed from Stalin in that he told revolutionaries to take their struggles out of the cities and into the countryside. He also preached the doctrine of voluntarism: he declared that if only they dared to believe they could, the Chinese and any other people could transform their country; he believed that revolutionary zeal, not weaponry, was the decisive factor.

“The ideas of Mao have more contemporary relevance than many people realise. I was interested in finding out how Maoism has transcended international boundaries and how it continues to manifest in a modern world. I am delighted that my work has been recognised in the selection lists for these three prizes, and would like to thank my inspiring colleagues and students for their support.”

Historian and President of the British Academy, Professor Sir David Cannadine said of the Al Rodhan Prize’s shortlist: “Each of the writers nominated for this year’s prize encourages the reader to trace the remarkable ways in which ideas are transmitted beyond borders, dynasties and ages.”

Charlotte Grey, juror on the Cundhill History Prize panel, highlighted the contemporary resonance of the shortlist, saying the stories contained within the books prove, “once again, that today has been irrevocably shaped by yesterday.”

Dr Xand van Tulleken, doctor, television presenter and a judge of the Baillie Gifford prize noted that all the books on the longlist “have some essential bit of extraordinary quality in their writing and quality in their research,” while fellow judge, the critic and biographer Frances Wilson added that “people should pick up these books and read them, because these books will make you a better person.”

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