Shifting Narratives: Modern Chinese History since the Economic Reform and a Critique of Popular Opinion

In: Frontiers of History in China

When discussing the trans-formative shifts having occurred in the field of Chinese modern history following the economic reforms, one cannot avoid mention of the “revolutionary history paradigm,” the “paradigm of modernization” as well as the “postmodern paradigm.” According to popular belief, the course of development taken by the academic world during the past forty years was marked by a series of transformations: First was the progressive replacement of the “revolutionary history paradigm” by that of the “paradigm of modernization”; following that was the rise of the “postmodern paradigm” and the challenging of its predecessor. This set of divisions, though logically clear and succinct, cannot possibly conform to the realities of history in all of its complexness. While academic circles in the 1980’s were largely concerned with the issues of “what exactly is the historical driving force of Marxism” and “who are the revolutionary class,” the notion of the “paradigm of modernization” was rather a product of the conservative historical viewpoint and its rise during the late 1990’s. In this sense, then, the latter cannot possibly embody the former. On the surface of things, though the “postmodern paradigm” appears to refuse the narrative of revolutionary history, it in fact shares deeper connections with Chinese revolutionary thought at its roots. In short, then, these trans-formative shifts in modern Chinese history are not a simple “exchange” whereby one paradigm transfers into the next, but are rather a process of incessant and interconnected change.

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