The Battle for History in Xi Jinping's China

Project Expert

Ian Johnson
Ian Johnson

Stephen A. Schwarzman Senior Fellow for China Studies

About the Project

More than any other modern Chinese leader, Xi Jinping has sought to simplify the history of the People's Republic, led since 1949 by the Communist Party, into a tale of triumph over tragedy. Alternative interpretations are forbidden; textbooks and school curricula are being refashioned to tell a new, glorious history for a new, nationalistic superpower. 

Despite this overwhelming state power, an unofficial movement of writers, artists, bloggers, and filmmakers is challenging the Chinese Communist Party on this sensitive turf. These grassroots historians are using digital technologies to document the party's missteps, from its ascent to power in the 1940s to its cover-up of the coronavirus. The result: a remarkable outpouring of samizdat publications and underground films that is slowly breaking the state's monopoly on the truth and challenging its right to rule. 

I will examine the role of these counter-historians, showing what is at stake in the resurrection of memory, and what those exhuming the past hope to achieve.  The project will result in a book to be published by Oxford University Press and Penguin UK, as well as articles and meetings. 

No publications were found for this project.