The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2019 | 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-supervisors: Dr Julia Lovell, Birkbeck, University of London

Award includes tuition fees and a stipend of £16,777 including London Weighting (at 2018/19 rates, so slightly higher for 2019 entry)

100% FTE for 3 years, from September 2019.

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 and public memorials), 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. We invite proposals for projects on these complex and evolving relationships between memory and history, based on local case studies, which could involve people’s everyday lives, the local impact of various economic and political campaigns, or the experience of extraordinary events and disasters. We envisage this as including the exploration of both personal and collective memories on the one hand and public commemoration and official historiography on the other hand, with the aim to explore the scope for the writing of alternative histories to both the standard narratives of failure and total disaster and the bowdlerised official historiography. One example could be the massive, secretive project to move strategic industries into remote, mountainous areas of China’s southwestern provinces, which was at the heart of China’s industrial and defence policies in the 1960s. 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. Other case studies that address the key issues outlined above are equally welcomed.

The studentship is for a duration of three years and will cover course fees (at the usual level for UK and EU studentships) and a student stipend  (£16,777 per annum for 2018/19.)

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. The difference between overseas fees (£17,967) and UK/EU fees (£4,396) for a full-time research degree is £13,571 for 2019-20.

Subject Areas/Keywords:

Modern Chinese History, 1949-1979; memory and commemoration

Candidate requirements (if appropriate):

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:

Hershatter, Gail. 2011. The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Matten, Marc André, ed. 2012. Places of Memory in Modern China: History, Politics, and Identity. Leiden: Brill.

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.


Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal supervisor: Dr Andrea Janku (

Research webpage:

Co-supervisors: Dr Julia Lovell (

Research webpage:

Further information about Research degrees in  History at SOAS is available from:

Application forms and details about ho to apply are available from:

Candidates wishing to apply for this fully funded three-year, full-time PhD studentship starting September 2019 must complete both an admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

STEP 1: Admissions Application

Apply for the Research Degrees programme in History using SOAS’s online admissions form. See: information and ‘Apply Online’ link.


Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission as soon as possible and no later than the studentship deadline (16:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 March 2019).


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


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 Andrea 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 the application form to by no later than 16:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 March 2019.

Closing date for application is:

14 March 2019