Civil Wars, Rival Futures and the Trope of Liberation in Modern Chinese and Modern American History

Lewis Mayo

Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

The contemporary People’s Republic of China and the United States of America are products of victories in civil wars fought over rival conceptions of the future development of their respective revolutionary states. The long-term effects of these civil war victories and defeats over conceptions of both the past and future of China and the USA, and on the relationships between these two republics, have been profound.

How has the idea and rhetoric of liberation functioned in the imagination of the future in modern Chinese and American history? With the defeat of the Confederacy and the emancipation of enslaved Americans, a vision of collective and individual liberation was enshrined as a central part of the vision of the American past and future.  With the defeat of the Chinese Nationalists, a vision of class liberation was enshrined as lying at the heart of attempts to create the future in the People’s Republic of China.  The effects of shifting conceptions of the future and of liberation on understandings of the past and perceptions of the present in modern China and in the USA will be the core of my concerns.


Lewis Mayo teaches in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. Trained as an historian of medieval China and Central Asia, he has a strong interest in Chinese historiography and its social contexts. He is the co-author of The Precepts of the Du Clan: An Investigation (Changsha, 2017)


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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