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Asian Topics in World History Asia for Educators Columbia University
China and Europe, 1500–2000 and Beyond: What is Modern?
The Precedent for Modern Politics
The Rural Industry Tradition in China
Emperors and Reign Periods (PDF)
Timeline of Chinese Inventions (PDF)
China's Gifts to the West (PDF)
Chinese Ideas in the West (PDF)
Excerpts of Interest
China Achieves a Modern State
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The Precedent for Modern Politics

When we think of what becomes twentieth-century China, about its institutions and ideologies, it's important to recognize that some of the possibilities that existed in the twentieth century existed because of the ways in which Chinese ideas and institutions worked in earlier periods. To take, for example, the relationship between politics and culture in late imperial China between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries especially, the government assumed a responsibility to define what was morally correct for people living throughout the empire.

Chinese Cultural Revolution–era government poster encouraging moral leadership. The text reads, 'Fear neither hardship nor death: Emulate the lofty spirit of comrade Wang Jie's whole-hearted devotion to the revolution.'
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Chinese Cultural Revolution–era government poster encouraging moral leadership. The text reads, "Fear neither hardship nor death: Emulate the lofty spirit of comrade Wang Jie's whole-hearted devotion to the revolution."
Yanker Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Moral correctness was a goal of education. And it defined much of what was culturally acceptable. It's therefore not that surprising that political leaders in the twentieth century might have ideas or assumptions that are somehow related to the ways their predecessors considered the relationship between politics and culture. In other words, the fact that after 1949 Communist leaders have had a certain set of assumptions about how government is responsible for cultural orthodoxy is not surprising within a Chinese context.

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The Tradition of Campaigns
We tend to think that post-1949 Chinese concerns about correct thought and ideas are a peculiar trait of communism. While these concerns may be related to being communist, they're not solely related to being communist. That's one point. A second point is that we can't assume that practices that existed before 1900 magically become negative and irrelevant after 1900, negative in the sense that they're obstacles to the future or that they became irrelevant because becoming modern must mean doing things differently.


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