Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China

Speaker: Bin Xu
Venue: Hosted via Zoom
Date & Time:
2021-11-10 | 20:30-22:00 (Shanghai)
2021-11-10 | 7:30-9:00 (New York)
2021-11-10 | 16:30-18:00 (Abu Dhabi)

In the 1960s and 1970s, around 17 million Chinese youths were mobilized or forced by the state to migrate to rural villages and China’s frontiers. In his new book Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China (Cambridge, 2021), Bin Xu tells the story of how this ‘sent-down’ generation have come to terms with their difficult past. Exploring representations of memory including personal life stories, literature, museum exhibits, and acts of commemoration, he argues that these representations are defined by a struggle to reconcile worthiness with the political upheavals of the Mao years. These memories, however, are used by the state to construct an official narrative that weaves this generation’s experiences into an upbeat story of the ‘China dream’. This marginalizes those still suffering and obscures voices of self-reflection on their moral-political responsibility for their actions. Xu provides careful analysis of this generation of ‘Chairman Mao’s children’, caught between the political and the personal, past and present, nostalgia and regret, and pride and trauma.

Bin Xu is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Emory University. His research interests lie at the intersection of politics and culture, including collective memory, civil society, cultural sociology, and social theory. He is the author of The Politics of Compassion: The Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (Stanford, 2017), which won two awards from the American Sociological Association, Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China (Cambridge 2021), and The Culture of Democracy: A Sociological Approach to Civil Society (forthcoming from Polity Press, UK). His articles have appeared in leading sociological and China studies journals. He has received fellowships, grants, and awards from the American Sociological Association, the American Council of Learned Societies, among others.

Introduction by Tansen Sen, Professor of History, Director of the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai.

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