Utopias on the Ground: Everyday Life in the Making of Mao’s “New China”

Ms Katherine  Molyneux1, Ms. Shan Windscript1, Ms. Peidong  Sun2, Ms. Ning Zhang2

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 2Fudan University, Shanghai, China

Chair: Shan Windscript


This panel aims to stimulate critical discussions of aspects of everyday life in Mao-era China, where state-socialist visions for the future radically transformed – often with disastrous consequences – the grassroots’ here-and-now. The four papers in this panel explore the significance and dynamic impact of Maoist utopias on the ground from different perspectives, bringing new insights from previously unexplored or neglected sources into a volatile past suffused with hopes, fears, and uncertainty. Katherine Molyneux examines the fate of street peddlers during Nanjing’s urban commune movement in the Great Leap Forward, demonstrating that the state’s yearning for an industrial utopia reconstituted the city’s daily economy. Shan Windscript examines unpublished diaries of the early Cultural Revolution, showing how ordinary people appropriated official discourse of time to position themselves in socialist space as historical subjects. Peidong Sun explores the dynamic relationship between official censorship and personal reading practices, highlighting the limitations of power in suppressing the individuals. Finally, Zhang Ning looks into the personal documents of a former “educated youth” to discuss the disappearance of the revolutionary horizon in rural everyday life. Together, the four papers argue that the Maoist grassroots, while being transformed by utopias “from above,” fractured state homogeneity from the bottom up.


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