PRC History in Crisis and Clover

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Jeremy Brown, "PRC History in Crisis and Clover," in "The Maoism of PRC History: Against Dominant Trends in Anglophone Academia," ed. Aminda Smith and Fabio Lanza, special issue, Positions: Asia Critique 29, no. 4 (November 2021): 689–718,

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PRC history, digitization, censorship, diversity, inclusion

The history of the People's Republic of China is now an established discipline, with a built-in theoretical framework—aspirational socialism—and a first draft written by social scientists. The growth of the field of PRC history has been aided by an avalanche of unique grassroots sources. Grassroots documents, many of which are local archives discarded by the state, have prompted new research questions and uncovered hidden dimensions of the Mao years, but they remain inaccessible to the broader research community unless scholars go out of their way to digitize and share them. This solution, however, reveals a deeper crisis facing the field: even though new types of sources will continue to fuel the growth of PRC history, scholars farthest from Xi Jinping's organs of repression can share sources and write about them freely, while academics subject to authoritarian restrictions cannot. There is no easy fix to the two-tier system created by Document Nine's prohibition against evidence-based history research. Nonetheless, collaborative translation projects and vigorously pushing for a more diverse and inclusive field in and outside of China can help PRC history continue to flourish.


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