• Eva Strnadová

Julian Lovell on Maoism

Lovell, a scholar of Chinese history, takes a broad view of Maoism across the world and history.


About the Author


Julia Lovell is a Professor of modern Chinese history and literature at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research has been particularly focused on the relationship between culture and modern Chinese nation-building. Her previous books include:

  • The Great Wall: China Against the World 1000 BC-AD 2000 (Atlantic Books, 2006).

  • The Opium War: Drugs, The Politics of Cultural Capital: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature (University of Hawaii Press, 2006).

  • Dreams and the Making of China (Picador, 2011).

In her latest book, Julia Lovell discusses a broad range of topics from responses to Maoism to its legacy in today’s China.


Maoist Legacy in Today's China


Lovell demonstrates that Maoism developed long before the 1960s and has lasted long after the Cold War. Right from the cover of the book, readers are reminded of the everlasting impact of Maoism. The use of Mao’s portrait on the cover based on Andy Warhol’s portrait of Mao using a stencil technique is not a coincidence. Mao has become a symbol, even in Western pop-culture.


Andy Warhol, MAO (F.S. 90-99), 1972.

After Mao died in 1976, the Communist party admitted in 1981 that the Cultural Revolution had been ‘responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the party, the state, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.’ The lesson learnt has long been manifested by the imposture of a fixed term on the supreme leader of the party. China has imposed a two-term limit on its president since the 1990s.


This has changed in 2018 when the limit has been removed effectively enabling Xi Jinping to remain in power for life. From Mr. Xi’s call for 'self-reliance' of state-owned enterprises to his political philosophy knowns as ‘Xi Jinping thought’, the Maoist influence in current China has been increasingly evident.


Instead, China’s new Maoist mood after 2012 showed that Maoist ideas remains central to the legitimacy of the China’s Communist government.Julia Lovell

Maoism has been too readily dismissed by Western observers an outdated historical and political phenomenon. Since the 1980s, China seemed to have distanced itself from the utopia of Mao’s revolution in favour of authoritarian capitalism. However, the legacy of Maoism remains central to the Communist government of the People’s Republic. Mao Zedong is symbolically present in the everyday life in China, from his portrait and embalmed body in Tiananmen Square to countless statues.


There is an increasing need to understand this political legacy to better grasp the current conflicts between China and the West. Lovell’s original research on neo-Marxism in today’s China aids her readers to clarify the current political relations between China and the West.


Perhaps more emphasis could have been given to the innovative application of Maoism in artificial intelligence and technology used in China to tighten its grip on the citizens.


Global Impact of Maoism


In her book, Lovell cites Christophe Bourseiller. According to him, ‘Maoism doesn’t exist. It never has been done. That, without doubt, explains its success.’ The malleability of Maoism and flexibility of its philosophy partially explains its global adaptivity.


One strength of Lovell’s book is an explanation of Maoist influence on foreign relations and how this philosophy fitted into that specific historical period. Domestically, Lovell explains the Sino-Soviet split, and how Chinese foreign policy deployed Mao Zedong Thought against its Soviet rivals.


Globally, it shaped the course of the Vietnam War that caused its international youth support. It inspired terrorist movements in Germany and Italy. It brought to power Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and partially led to victorious anti-colonial resistance movements in Africa. It inspired wars and insurgencies in Nepal, Peru and India.


Maoism and Populism


Dr. Ben Margulies sees Lovell’s biggest contribution in her analysis of Maoism not solely as an ideology but as a sort of discourse. This discourse is based on symbols, ideas, emotional messages that have been manipulated according to needs to become a dogma. As Maoism has become a rather historical political thought for many Western readers, a distanced reading of historic events gives the readers a rare opportunity to reflect on the current politics.


Reviewed book: Julia Lovell, Maoism: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2019).