Emily Williams is an Assistant Professor of China Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. Her research looks at material culture relating to Chinese Communist Party history, and collections of these objects in China and abroad.

From Grassroots Nostalgia to Official Memory: Red Relics in Contemporary China

Collections of ‘Red relics’—objects relating to the history of the Chinese Communist Party—were initially understood primarily as a form of grassroots nostalgia for the supposed purity and equality of the Mao era and a reaction against the changes of the reform era. This essay argues that in recent years, these objects—particularly those from the revolutionary, pre-1949 period—have been increasingly coopted into the Party’s narrative about the rejuvenation of China under its leadership.

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Collecting the Red Era in Contemporary China

Since the 1980s the Chinese Communist Party has condemned the Cultural Revolution as ‘ten years of chaos’. Nevertheless, so far there has been very little discussion on the topic in the public sphere in China. This essay looks into how private collections of red relics can be used to confront this void in China’s recent past. It argues that collected objects play a much more complex role in history production than we may think, as they contribute to the construction of narratives, put forth counter-narratives, and fragment the very idea of historical narrative altogether.

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