Collective Memory of China's 'Educated Youth' (zhiqing) Generation

"Collective Memory of China’s 'Educated Youth' (zhiqing) Generation" by Professor Bin Xu (Dept. of Sociology, Emory University)

Free and open to the public

Time: 12:30pm - 1:30pm | 2016

Location: Modern Languages 201, 532 Kilgo Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Chinese government sent about 17 million secondary school graduates (the “educated youth” or “zhiqing”) to villages, state farms, and military corps, in order to achieve some practical and ideological goals. The "send-down" program, however, failed dismally and had detrimental impacts on the zhiqing generation’s life courses. Despite its failure, the zhiqing’s memory of their sent-down years is a mixture of grievance, resentment, self-congratulation, nostalgia, and heroism. To understand their generational memory, Bin Xu has collected various data during his fieldwork (2013-2016), including in-depth interviews, participant observations, visits to memorials, exhibits, literary works, memoirs, and archives. He aims to use their memory to examine the mentality and political views of this generation of “Chairman Mao’s children,” who have inherited the legacy of the Mao years and have to reconcile it with the sea changes in the post-Mao society. Xu also borrows insights from Karl Mannheim and Pierre Bourdieu to contribute to the collective memory study by bringing back in a less studied but significant factor: social class.

About the speaker

Bin Xu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. He receives his Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University. His research has appeared in sociological and China studies journals, including Theory&Society, Sociological Theory, Social Problems, Social Psychology Quarterly, China Quarterly, and The China Journal

Bin Xu’s research interests lie at the intersection of cultural sociology, political sociology, and social psychology. He currently focuses on two lines of research. First, political and cultural sociology of disasters. He is finishing a book manuscript titled The Politics of Moral Sentiments: Civil Society and the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in China (under contract with Stanford University Press). In the book, he drew on a massive amount of data from interviews, observations, textual and visual materials to examine how ordinary Chinese citizens participated in the rescue and relief efforts after the devastating Sichuan earthquake, how they interpreted the meanings of their act of compassion, and how the political context shaped their actions and meanings. A few articles derived from this project address other theoretical and empirical issues related to disasters, including the performance theory, mourning and commemorations, and politics of disasters.

Second, collective memory. He is currently writing a book and a few related articles on the collective memory of China’s “educated youth” (zhiqing) generation—the 17 million Chinese youth sent down to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s. He draws on the data collected in the last three years, including life history interviews, ethnography, and archival research, to address how members of this important generation interpret meanings of their past difficulties and sufferings in the countryside, how those interpretations are represented and expressed in autobiographic memories, cultural objects, and commemorative activities, and what their memories tell us about this generation’s mentality. In addition to examine the Maoist legacy through people’s minds and dispositions, this project also aims to generate a theoretical framework from Karl Mannheim’s and Pierre Bourdieu’s theories to address a few general issues related to generation, class, and memory. His previous work on collective memory deals with WWII memories and nationalism in China.