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Julia Lovell Inaugural Lecture, Maoism: A Global History

Venue: Birkbeck Main Building, Malet Street

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Julia Lovell is delivering her inaugural lecture Maoism: A Global History. This is a free event but does require booking. The lecture shall be one hour and followed by a drinks reception.

Since 2012 – and for the first time since the death of Mao in 1976 – China has experienced an official, national revival of Maoist culture and politics. Despite the huge human cost of Mao’s rule, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Xi Jinping have re-normalised parts of Maoist political culture: criticism-self-criticism, the ‘mass line’, and above all the personality cult. This October, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China by Mao, the CCP is preparing a festival of patriotism invoking Mao as august builder of the party and nation.  

In order to shore up their own legitimacy, the CCP have cast Mao as a respectable paterfamilias. But this definition of Mao obscures other, more destabilising legacies of Maoism – a volatile mix of militarised party autocracy, anti-colonial rebellion and ‘continuous revolution’. Although Mao remains central to China’s increasingly authoritarian government, his ideas have also been a key influence on global insurgency and subversion across the last eighty years.

Perhaps as part of a more general neglect (beyond specialists) of the global role of China in the 20th century, for decades Western analysts have underestimated the spread and resilience of Mao’s ideas – not only in terms of their impact on China, but also on the world more generally. If Maoism is thought of at all, it is seen as a Chinese force, and as a force long spent. But we need to evaluate the power and allure of Maoism beyond, as well as within, China. It has had a long global afterlife in revolutions and insurrections that have transformed states and left millions dead: in Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Peru, India and Nepal. In Vietnam, Maoism helped build a party and army able to face down the French and then US empires. In Western Europe, it stood for playful disobedience (as well as inspiring murderous terrorism). In Peru, it inspired a tiny band of under-equipped ideologues – the Shining Path – to challenge the government, almost to the point of toppling the state.

This lecture will explore how Mao’s ideas have shaped the world, as well as China, since World War II. It will conclude by assessing China’s current partial Maoist revival (taking place at a time when China is far more globally powerful than it was under Mao) and its significance for China’s self-positioning in the world.



Julia Lovell is Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her most recent book is Maoism: A Global History (Bodley Head, 2019). Her several translations of modern Chinese fiction into English include The Real Story of Ah Q, and other Tales of China (Penguin Classics, 2010). She is currently completing a new translation of Journey to the West, to be published by Penguin Classics.

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