Slow Train to Democracy, the Shanghai Campaign of 1978 to 1979

Anne McLaren

University of Melbourne

In November 1978 the city centre of Shanghai was the scene of a vigorous wall poster campaign calling for redress of grievances that were the legacy of decades of political misrule. The government line blamed the disastrous Cultural Revolution on the Gang of Four, a group that excluded the former paramount leader, Mao Zedong. However, Shanghai activists for democracy asked probing questions about the role of Mao Zedong and about Marxist ideology, calling for political reform and constitutional rights. The movement continued into 1979, culminating in the occupation of Shanghai railway station. At the time of China’s border war with Vietnam, the protest movement was repressed and activists arrested. This paper will discuss the stated aims of the various individuals and associations taking part in the protest. The author was a student at Fudan University at that time and a close observer of the Shanghai scene.


Anne McLaren (Panel Chair) has published widely on Chinese literature and on gender issues in Chinese oral and ritual traditions. Her published works include Performing Grief: Bridal Laments in Rural China and Chinese Popular Culture and Ming Chantefables. She is Professor of Chinese Studies at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.



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.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd