China's Great Leap Forward, beginning in 1958, touched almost everything in Chinese life, even the traditions of academic scholarship. The study of history was given special attention, offering the temptation of an entire past to be reinterpreted along Marxist-Maoist lines, and from Great Leap days onward Chinese historians were pressured to a greater or lesser degree to demonstrate how the course of Chinese history was an enactment of the victorious class struggle in its various manifestations. There was acquiescence and there was resistance, and the demands made on historiography were modified in the following years; but the extent to which the Communist government was successful in bringing the study of history under the Maoist wing is a telling indication of how strong and how purposeful is the regime.
History in Communist China evaluates that success in a collection of authoritative studies, covering problems in Chinese historiography from before the Great Leap to just before the latest fever of the Cultural Revolution. The book is essentially a preliminary reconnaissance of the work done by Chinese historians during the first fifteen years of the People's Republic. As, may be expected, the major point at issue is how nicely the Chinese historians managed to steer a steadily narrowing course between “class viewpoint” and what was scornfully debunked as historicism.” The issue had its martyrs – Professor Liu Cheih, who in 1963 was bitterly attacked for wondering in print whether it was “necessary” to use the class struggle theory “in such a dogmatic manner and so mechanically”; and Wu Han, whose anti-Maoist interpretation of an eminent historical figure resulted in 1965 in the first public expression of the upheaval in the country's intellectual life. But the violence of the debate took its toll; by April 1966 the leading historical journal in China had ceased publication, and an October 1966 newspaper statement made clear the new policy: “We must sweep away all rubbish and wash away all dirt, and plant on the positions of historical science the proletarian, dazzling red banner of the thought of Mao Tse-tung.”
History in Communist China appraises the present situation in China and speculates on the immediate future. It should be a source of continuing interest to the historian, to the political scientist, and to the general reader.