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China – The Second Sino-Japanese War and Maoist China, 1937-76

6. The Cultural Revolution, 1966-76

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In this module, we think about the Cultural Revolution in China, focusing in particular on: (i) the influence of the Great Leap Forward on Mao’s political standing and on his decision to launch the Cultural Revolution; (ii) the difference in approach between idealists such as Mao and Lin Biao, and pragmatists such as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping; (iii) the importance of the Lushan Conference in 1959, Mao’s decision to step aside, and the beginnings of the recovery from the Great Leap Forward; (iv) the personal and political reasons Mao launches the Cultural Revolution in 1966; (v) the importance of the May Fourth Movement in Mao’s thinking; (vi) the importance of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, and her rivalry with Liu Shaoqi’s wife, in determining the course of events; (vii) the impact of the Cultural Revolution; (viii) the importance of the Red Guards, and the reasons they went to the lengths they did to prolong the Revolution; and (ix) the extent to which China has ‘worked through’ the trauma of the Cultural Revolution today.


In this course, Professor Yang-Wen Zheng (University of Manchester) explores the history of China from the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. In the first module, we think about what China was like on the eve of the Japanese invasion of 1937. After that, in the second module, we think about why the Communists won the Chinese Civil War, before turning in the third module to consider the challenges faced by the Communists when they came to power in 1949. In the fourth, fifth and sixth modules, we focus on three distinct periods in the Mao era – (i) the First Five-Year Plan (1953-7); (ii) the Great Leap Forward (1958-62); and (iii) the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) – before turning in the seventh and final module to consider whether life in China was better in 1936 or 1976.

Note on names:

Chinese cities are referred to by their modern names, even if another name was used in the period being discussed, e.g. ‘Guangzhou’ instead of ‘Canton’.

Individual figures are referred to by their most familiar name, e.g. ‘Chiang Kai-shek’ instead of ‘Chiang Chung-cheng’, ‘Chiang Chieh-shih’ or ‘Jiang Jieshi’. Where no familiar form exists, we have followed the usage of Jonathan Fenby’s ‘Penguin History of Modern China’ (2008).


Yangwen Zheng is Professor of Chinese History at the University of Manchester. Born and raised in China, she was educated at Oberlin College and the University of Cambridge, before working at the University of Pennsylvania (2002-04) and the National University of Singapore (2004-06). Trained as an economic historian with a focus on Ming-Qing maritime trade and patterns/cultures of consumption, she has been fascinated with the foreign goods/things that went into China and the ways in which they became Chinese or indigenised. She is the editor (with Richard Madsen of UC San Diego) of the "Alternative Sinology" series published by Manchester University Press and an editorial board member for Modern Asian Studies and for the Journal of Social and Economic History of the Orient. Her recent publications include Ten Lessons in Modern Chinese History (2018).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Zheng, Y. (2020, November 23). China – The Second Sino-Japanese War and Maoist China, 1937-76 - The Cultural Revolution, 1966-76 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Zheng, Y. "China – The Second Sino-Japanese War and Maoist China, 1937-76 – The Cultural Revolution, 1966-76." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Nov 2020,

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