The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2018 | Mining ‘realms of memory’ for alternative histories of Mao’s China
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Mining ‘realms of memory’ for alternative histories of Mao’s China

Principal Supervisor: Dr Andrea Janku (SOAS University of London)

Co-Supervisor: Dr Julia Lovell (Birbeck, University of London)

Project description

In recent years the history of the early decades of the PRC has attracted considerable attention in both Chinese and Western-language historiographies. Standard accounts of ‘liberation’ and the subsequent building of the New China on the one hand and violent coercion and subsequent failed socio-economic experiments on the other are increasingly challenged. Instead questions arise about the ways in which grass-roots experiences of that time might be recovered and used to understand the complexity of historical processes and their continuing impact on present realities. Given the importance of mythologised versions of the past in the current political environment in the PRC, a sophisticated reading of China’s lieux de mémoire – to use Pierre Nora’s concept (1989) – seems to be an urgent task.

As the recovery and preservation of various types of heritage has emerged as an undertaking of considerable proportions (ranging from various forms of preserving old industrial sites to private museums), various ways of collecting oral histories covering the 1950s to 1980s are being explored, and local archives are, if not always easy to get access to, not entirely out of reach, there are ways to transcend the existing streamlined narratives. To explore these, based on the case study of the Third Front campaign of the 1960s/1970s (Wu 2002) is what this project proposes. This massive, secretive project to move strategic industries into remote, mountainous areas of China’s southwestern provinces was at the heart of China’s industrial policies of the time and thus had a huge impact on the country’s further development as well as on the millions of people that were affected by it. Variously described as a failure of colossal scale, more disruptive than the Cultural Revolution for China’s economic development (Naughton 1988), or a positive contribution to the long-term integration of backward provinces through e.g. the construction of railway lines, that was overall successful despite the enormous human cost (Meyskens 2015), an understanding of those events that is more nuanced and less focused on either the economy or political ideologies, but rather focuses on the ways these histories are constructed and on alternative histories that are suppressed at the same time is needed.

The studentship is for a duration of 3 years and will cover course fees (at the usual level for UK and EU studentships) and a student stipend.

Applicants from non-EU countries may apply for this project but will be required to meet the additional costs of overseas fees from other sources.

Subject areas/ keywords

Modern Chinese History; Third Front Campaign; lieux de mémoire

Candidate requirements

The successful candidate will have a degree in History or a related subject, preferably in combination with Chinese, confident command of Modern Chinese (min. HSK 6 or equivalent), and at least initial experience carrying out archival research and fieldwork in China.

Key References

  • Meyskens, C. 2015. ‘Third Front Railroads and Industrial Modernity in Late Maoist China.’ Twentieth-Century China 40(3): 238-260.
  • Naughton, B. 1988. ‘The Third Front: Defence Industrialization in the Chinese Interior.’ The China Quarterly 115: 351-386.
  • Nora, Pierre. 1989. ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.’ Representations 26 (Spring): 7-24.
  • Wu Xiaolin. 2002. Mō Takutō jidai no kōgyōka senryaku: sansen kensetsu no seiji keizaigaku. Tokyo.

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Further information

Further information about Research Degrees: History at SOAS is available here.

The successful student will be registered at: SOAS University of London

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How to apply

Instructions for applicants

Candidates wishing to apply for this fully funded three-year, full-time PhD studentship starting September 2018 must complete both an admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

STEP 1: Admissions Application

Apply for the Research Degrees: History using SOAS’s online admissions form.

Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission as soon as possible and no later than the studentship deadline (17:00 UK time, Monday, 7 May 2018).

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme and documents you need to submit is available here.

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentship, use the title of the studentship (project title: Mining ‘realms of memory’ for alternative histories of Mao’s China) as your Research Proposal Title and state Dr Janku as your Proposed Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your 2,000 word Research Proposal please respond to the project description and elaborate on how you would approach the project theoretically and methodologically based on your previous academic training and experience.

STEP 2: Studentship Application

Apply for the Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship by completing and submitting the application form.
to by no later than Monday, 7 May 2018 (17:00 UK time).

Queries about the application process should be sent to:

The closing date for applications is: 17:00 UK time, Monday, 7 May 2018  (extended from 26 February 2018)