Current Institutional Affiliation
Lecturer, Mellon Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University
The Once and Future Past: Petitioning Historical Grievances in Post-Mao China

In the decade following the Cultural Revolution, local government institutions received thousands of petitions from party cadres, work units, and ordinary citizens of the People's Republic of China. These petitions called upon the state to reverse past political verdicts and render official redress for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution's mass campaigns. As past targets of persecution and factional struggle, petitioners presented historical grievances as the basis of appeals for the revocation of 'black category' labels and the restitution of benefits and privileges associated with good political standing. Through this process, former 'enemies of the people' succeeded in clearing their names and reversing the judgments of Cultural Revolution-era. Utilizing new archival resources and document collections, this dissertation aims to investigate the genre of petitions to engage problems of ideological transition, historical reckoning and contentious politics. A critical reading of these texts will illuminate attempts by petitioners to press claims against the state while utilizing rhetorical strategies of remonstrance to formally align their interests with those of power-holders. Straddling the ground between reportage and litigation, petitions mobilized a combination of private historical narrative and the ethical ideals of socialist society to demand transformative political reforms. In focusing on letters and petitions as expressions of the public and grassroots impetus for revisionism, this project seeks to understand how public agitation contributed toward a critical discourse on the Cultural Revolution as 'state failure' that necessitated a reappraisal of official history and ideology. This account of how civil discourse shifted the balance of the post-Mao transition suggests new possibilities for conceptualizing categories of state and society in a nation where the tensions between the needs of the past and the needs of the present still remain.