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Mao and Maoism - Semester 1 - HIS00202H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jon Howlett
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Mao Zedong is one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century. On this module we go beyond biography, using varied approaches and sources to explore how Maoism transformed China and the world.

We will begin our first module by introducing ourselves to Mao and the ideology that bears his name, thinking
about how we can avoid the traps of “great man” history. We ask why Maoism became such an important political creed in the twentieth century and explore how the Chinese Communist Party remade China under Mao’s leadership. Here we delve into important historical events including revolutions, coercive mass campaigns and the world’s worst famine. We conclude by examining how the Mao cult was manufactured, and why a new wave of scholarship has embraced grassroots histories of everyday life in the Maoist era.

Our second module begins by focusing on how different people experienced the Maoist era, focusing on diverging gendered experiences, the lives of young people during the Cultural Revolution, and life in China’s borderlands. We then turn even further afield, thinking about how people across the world were influenced by Maoism, including Black Panthers, Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania African National Union and Maoist insurgents in Peru and Nepal. We conclude by thinking about Mao’s legacy. China is now the country with the most billionaires in the world. What role is there for remembering Mao in China’s contemporary history and politics?

Primary sources we will encounter include Mao’s writings, Red Guard diaries and Black Panther manifestos.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the second part in Semester 2.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Great Helmsman: rethinking Mao Zedong
  2. What is Maoism?
  3. The Yan’an way: rural revolution (1921-1949)
  4. Making ‘New China’: mass campaigns and state terror (1949-1957)
  5. Power, famine and the Great Leap Forward (1958-62)
  6. Smash the four olds! The Cultural Revolution (1966-76)
  7. Manufacturing the Mao Cult
  8. Discovering everyday life in Mao’s China


Task Length % of module mark
Portfolio : Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to produce text commentaries in seminar, including a written commentary.

For the summative assessment students build a portfolio of two parts, to be submitted together:
a) Two text commentaries of 500-750 words; and
b) One 1,500-word essay which reflects on the significance of the chosen texts in light of scholarship and sources from across the module.
The commentaries comprise 50% and the essay 50% of the overall mark for this module. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Portfolio : Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative work will be live marked in seminar and supplemented by the tutor giving oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Timothy Cheek, A Critical Introduction to Mao (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • Daniel Leese, Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China's Cultural Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  • Julia Lovell, Maoism: A Global History (London: Random House, 2019).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.