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Book at Lunchtime: China’s Good War

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Duration: 1:01:22 | Added: 25 Jun 2021
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Duration: 1:01:22 | Added: 25 Jun 2021
A TORCH Book at Lunchtime webinar on ‘China's Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism’ by Professor Rana Mitter.

Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held weekly during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines. The events are free to attend and open to all.

About the book:

For most of its history, the People’s Republic of China limited public discussion of the war against Japan. It was an experience of victimization - and one that saw Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek fighting for the same goals. But now, as China grows more powerful, the meaning of the war is changing. Professor Rana Mitter argues that China’s reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting nationalism at home.

China’s Good War begins with the academics who shepherded the once-taboo subject into wider discourse. Encouraged by reforms under Deng Xiaoping, they researched the Guomindang war effort, collaboration with the Japanese, and China’s role in forming the post-1945 global order. But interest in the war would not stay confined to scholarly journals. Today public sites of memory—including museums, movies and television shows, street art, popular writing, and social media—define the war as a founding myth for an ascendant China. Wartime China emerges as victor rather than victim.

The shifting story has nurtured a number of new views. One rehabilitates Chiang Kai-shek’s war efforts, minimizing the bloody conflicts between him and Mao and aiming to heal the wounds of the Cultural Revolution. Another narrative positions Beijing as creator and protector of the international order that emerged from the war—an order, China argues, under threat today largely from the United States. China’s radical reassessment of its collective memory of the war has created a new foundation for a people destined to shape the world.


Professor Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford. His books include China’s War with Japan: The Struggle for Survival, 1937-1945 (Penguin, 2013), [US title: Forgotten Ally] which won the 2014 RUSI/Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, and was named a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and Economist, and China’s Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism (Harvard, 2020). His recent documentary on contemporary Chinese politics "Meanwhile in Beijing" is available on BBC Sounds. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking/BBC Arts and Ideas Podcast.

Professor David Priestland is Professor of Modern History at St Edmund’s College Oxford. His research specialises in communism and market liberalism, especially in the communist and post-communist worlds. His publications include a comparative history of communism, The Red Flag:

Communism and the Making of the Modern World, and Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power, a study of the history of market liberalism and its place in global history.

Professor Vivienne Shue is Professor Emeritus of Contemporary China Studies and Emeritus Fellow of St Anthony’s College Oxford. Her current research examines certain distinctively 21st century Chinese governance techniques and practices, including high-tech national development planning. Her publications include The Reach of the State: Sketches of the Chinese Body Politic, and most recently To Govern China, co-edited with Professor Patricia Thornton. She is the former director of Oxford’s Contemporary China Studies Programme.

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