Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China
In the 1960s and 1970s, around 17 million Chinese youths were mobilized or forced by the state to migrate to rural villages and China’s frontiers. In his book, Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China (Cambridge 2021), Bin Xu tells the story of how this ‘sent-down’ generation has come to terms with their difficult past. Exploring representations of memory, including personal life stories, literature, museum exhibits and acts of commemoration, he argues that these representations are defined by a struggle to reconcile worthiness with the political upheavals of the Mao years. These memories, however, are used by the state to construct an official narrative that weaves this generation’s experiences into an upbeat story of the ‘China dream’. This marginalizes those still suffering and obscures voices of self-reflection on their moral-political responsibility for their actions. Xu provides a careful analysis of this generation of ‘Chairman Mao’s children’, caught between the political and the personal, past and present, nostalgia and regret, and pride and trauma.

Bin Xu is an associate professor of sociology at Emory University and a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin) in 2023‒2024. His research interests are the intersection between politics and culture, including civil society, collective memory, symbolic politics, and disaster. He is the author of The Culture of Democracy: A Sociological Approach to Civil Society (Polity 2022), Chairman Mao’s Children: Generation and the Politics of Memory in China (Cambridge 2021), and The Politics of Compassion: the Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (Stanford 2017). His articles have appeared in leading journals in sociology and China studies. He is currently working on two book projects: one is about the commemoration and memorialization of COVID deaths, and the other is about disaster politics in China.
Date: 2 May 2024, 17:00 (Thursday, 2nd week, Trinity 2024)
Venue: Dickson Poon Building, Canterbury Road OX2 6LU
Venue Details: Kin-ku Cheng Lecture Theatre (lower ground floor)
Speaker: Professor Bin Xu (Emory University)
Organising department: Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Organisers: Dr Bo-jiun Jing (University of Oxford), Dr Evelyn Chan (University of Oxford), Dr Xiaojing Miao (University of Oxford), Professor Margaret Hillenbrand (University of Oxford), Professor Denise van der Kamp (University of Oxford), Professor Henrietta Harrison (University of Oxford), Dr Chigusa Yamaura (University of Oxford)
Organiser contact email address:
Host: Dr Evelyn Chan (University of Oxford)
Part of: China Studies Seminar series
Booking required?: Not required
Cost: Free
Audience: Public
Editor: Clare Orchard