I specialize in modern Chinese history with a particular interest in the social and cultural history of Chinese Communism. My recent book, Thought Reform and China’s Dangerous Classes: Reeducation, Resistance, and the People,explores what is arguably the Chinese government’s most controversial social policy– thought reform or reeducation. I pay special attention to the prostitutes, beggars, and other “lumpenproletarians” that the Communists saw as dangerous to society and the revolution. To hear me discussing this book, listen to an interview from the New Books podcast series.
My current work in PRC History, tentatively titled Truth Revolutions: Consciousness and the Praxis of Chinese Communism, investigates how Chinese Communists at various levels, from Mao Zedong to village cadres, understood their work as a global praxis that fomented revolution by facilitating profound and personal changes in individual consciousness. I consider multiple mobilization sites, from the Chinese “brainwashing” camps for Korean-War POWs to reception offices for “the masses” (and letters from the masses) in Chinese villages and cities. I also examine, in turn, how the individuals the Party attempted to mobilize viewed that encounter as one that transformed (or failed to transform) their understanding of the world and their role in revolution. (Sources: official PRC archives, oral histories, discarded government documents and letters sent by citizens to the state, which I gathered from flea markets, etc.)