Popular memories of the revolutionary past have become a political and cultural force in China. Traumatic memory and active criticism make up part of this wave, but so does nostalgia for collective responsibility and for feelings of freedom and progress.

Re-envisioning the Chinese Revolution is the first comprehensive study of contemporary memories of China’s revolutionary epoch, from the time of Japanese imperialism through the Cultural Revolution. Path-breaking in its scope, the research in this volume carefully examines the memories of a wide range of social groups, including disenfranchised workers and rural women, who have often been neglected in scholarship. Looking at a variety of embodiments of memories—interviews, films, photo exhibits, museums, and websites—the authors, ranging from anthropologists to film studies specialists, present original research on the idea of “memories as a cultural and political phenomenon.” The result is an unprecedented and illuminating reexamination of the memory of, and occasionally nostalgia for, the Chinese Revolution.

Ching Kwan Lee is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan; her research has focused on labor and social problems in China today. Guobin Yang is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College, Columbia University. Both were Fellows at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2003–4.



1. Introduction: Memory, Power, and Culture
Ching Kwan Lee and Guobin Yang

2. Rural Protest Letters: Local Perspectives on the State’s Revolutionary War on Tillers, 1960–1990
Paul G. Pickowicz

3. Spectral Chains: Remembering the Great Leap Forward Famine in a Yi Community
Erik Mueggler

4. Forget Remembering: Rural Women’s Narratives of China’s Collective Past
Gail Hershatter

5. Communes, Canteens, and Crèches: The Gendered Politics of Remembering the Great Leap Forward
Kimberley Ens Manning

6. Memories and the Moral Economy of a State-Owned Enterprise
Jonathan Unger and Anita Chan

7. What Was Socialism to Chinese Workers? Collective Memories and Labor Politics
Ching Kwan Lee

8. Visible Zhiqing: The Visual Culture of Nostalgia among China’s Zhiqing Generation
David J. Davies

9. Epic Narrative, Authenticity, and the Memory of Realism: Reflections on Jia Zhangke’s Platform
Ban Wang

10. “The March of the Volunteers”: From Movie Theme Song to National Anthem
Robert Chi

11. Horror and Atrocity: Memory of Japanese Imperialism in Chinese Museums
Kirk A. Denton

12. “A Portrait of Martyr Jiang Qing”: The Cultural Revolution on the Internet
Guobin Yang


“This is a smart, well-edited book. … The consistently high quality of these articles is worth remarking on: these are sound studies, drawing on substantial empirical research, cast and edited to address a theme of key significance efficiently.… This collection of essays will not only interest the scholar but also engage the student.”—Timothy Cheek, Journal of Asian Studies

“This is a timely study, which will be useful for students of contemporary China in different fields. In particular, it will be of great assistance to those who are interested in the origin and growth today of China’s developmental discourses, which were given birth and sanctioned by the state.”—Xin Liu, UC Berkeley