China in Contemporary World

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Short Essays (50% each): Your essays should be based on historical evidence drawn from the course materials (including lectures, readings, film clips, and images). The total length of the two essays (double-spaced, font size 12) must not exceed 6 pages.

1. You are having dinner with a group of friends in a restaurant. The conversation turns to the topic of modern China. One of your friends claims that it is futile to try to understand the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese went crazy, and that’s that. Do you agree with this opinion? If so, please provide a supporting argument. Or do you think that, however difficult, it is still possible to explain the events by situating them in the context of modern Chinese history? Confronted with the daunting challenges of modernizing China, did the Chinese often hold different ideas, approaches, and visions about what to do? Did Maoism represent one of these ideas and approaches?

Please note that your task is not to evaluate or judge the different, often competing, ideas and models of modernizing China; in other words, you don’t need to rank them or label them as good or bad. You are simply expected to characterize and explain them.

2. In his book, China in Ten Words, Yu Hua, a renowned Chinese writer, discusses contemporary China through his own personal experiences. He often uses his memory of the Cultural Revolution to comment on various aspects of contemporary China, pointing out, in his opinion, the continuities and changes of the two eras. In his book, Age of Ambition, Evan Osnos presents the different views of two prominent Chinese economists, Lin Yifu and Wu Jinglian, on the roles and priorities of government and democracy in the economic development of contemporary China. Based on the books, do you think that Yu is more likely to be sympathetic to Lin’s or Wu’s view? Please use the assigned readings and other relevant course material to support your position. (Hint: Please review Yu Hua, pp. 3-14, 113-180 and Osnos, chapter 10. Please also refer to the social and political changes portrayed in Qiu, Death of a Red Heroine.)

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