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  • Dilemmas of Victory: The Early Years of the People's Republic of China
  • Yamin Xu (bio)
Jeremy Brown and Paul G. Pickowicz, editors. Dilemmas of Victory: The Early Years of the People's Republic of China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010. xii, 462 pp. Cloth $49.00, ISBN 0-674-02616-0. Paperback $23.95, ISBN 0-674-04702-8.

A major contribution to the scholarship on early Mao-era China, this book, which contains more than a dozen well-researched articles, is a result of a conference originally convened at the University of California, San Diego, in June 2004. Authors include not only leading scholars in the field, but also a group of well-trained newcomers who demonstrate their sharp visions and excellent research skills. These articles, while exclusively focusing on the early history of the People's Republic of China (PRC), cover a wide range of areas of scholarly interests: the takeover and reordering of major urban centers; previously unexplored challenges faced by the Communists in the periphery; a culture of accommodation that involved artists, scientists, and educators and college students; family strategies adopted under the new order; and so forth. Based on rich local archive documents, personal interviews, and published historical materials that previously were unavailable to scholars, these studies provide a much needed reassessment of the PRC's early years by focusing on "the extraordinary diversity and complexity of how individuals, families, and social groups experienced" those years (p. 7).

Historiographic Background

As pointed out by Jeremy Brown and Paul Pickowicz in their introduction, scholars for a long time have turned away from the early years of the PRC. They are attracted by other more dramatic developments in the People's Republic, such as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and post-Mao reforms. However, the early 1950s, as demonstrated by studies included in this book, is a fascinating period. According to the book's two editors:

In the early 1950s, China was recovering from a century of imperialist invasion, civil war, and natural disaster. Governing a country as huge, diverse, fragmented, and poverty-stricken as China was an overwhelming task, especially for a party that had spent the previous two decades in the hinterland. Immediately after taking power, the Communists faced immense challenges. By late 1950, the People's Republic was fighting a war against the United States in Korea, while at the same time vast regions of China, roiled by armed insurrections, were only nominally under Communist control. But this period in the early People's Republic was also a time of hope and enthusiasm. Inclusive new institutions were established. In cities, members of the bourgeoisie were expected to reform themselves and to sacrifice their interests for the greater good; but they were also invited to contribute to building a new society. In villages, landlords had less room to maneuver, especially after late 1950, when moderate land reform policies gave way to more violent class struggle.

(p. 2) [End Page 81]

That more Western scholars would revisit early PRC history was natural after municipal and county archives opened up their rich collections of this period. In fact, scholars have been rewriting this period of PRC history not only with fresh materials but also from new perspectives.

To contextualize these new studies, Brown and Pickowicz first reassess the earlier scholarship. They notice that the "first generation of Western scholarship on China in the early 1950s hinted at the challenges, uncertainties, hopes, and fears of the time" (p. 2). Scholars such as Derk Bodde, A. Doak Barnett, Suzanne Pepper, and Lloyd Eastman confirmed and documented how the Nationalists had lost popular support and how the Communists were warmly welcomed by "[i]ntellectuals, students, and others not necessarily predisposed to support communism" (p. 2). Other scholars, such as Maria Yen and Richard M. McCarthy, expressed "an undercurrent of fear," particularly concerning the new regime's "efforts to clean up and remake society" (pp. 2-3). Brown and Pickowicz then move to analyze another group of scholars, which included Walt W. Rostow and Richard L. Walker. Living during a time when the United States was haunted by the "growing Red Scare" and China was...


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