The Hoover Project on China’s Global Sharp Power, Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies, and Stanford's Department of History invite you to Accidental Holy Land: Biography of a Book on Monday, May 15, 2023 from 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM PT at Lathrop Library, Stanford University. 

Yan’an is now revered as China’s “revolutionary holy land.” From 1937 to 1947, including the entire War of Resistance to Japan, it was the refuge for Mao Zedong and the Communist Center at the end of the Long March, and also for Xi Zhongxun, the father of Xi Jinping, the current president of China and the first “princeling” to hold that post. Mao arrived there only by accident: learning of the Communist movement there from a newspaper, after deciding to seek military assistance on the Soviet border. This talk is based on a recently published book on the northern Shaanxi revolution, the product of thirty years of archival and documentary research and numerous fieldwork trips to the region. The Communist revolution in Shaanxi saw a contest between the orthodox Bolsheviks in the urban party apparatus and the guerrilla movement in the hills, with its diverse composition of bandits, ex-soldiers, and young party members. The guerrillas finally had real success in 1935, only after the arrest of the urban Bolsheviks freed them from higher party control. This success was also predicated on the alliance of the guerrilla-based communists of the northwest with the school-based party in the northeast, a difference that originated in different local ecologies which were in turn the product of the Moslem Rebellion of the 19th century.  This history leads us to explore the complex relationship between local, national and international conditions, the role of “accidental” factors in history, and, most fundamentally, the process whereby the Chinese Communist Party came to power.

Accidental Holy Land: Biography of a Book | May 15, 2023


Joseph W. Esherick received his B.A. from Harvard in 1964 and his PhD from Berkeley in 1971.  His scholarship has focused on the last years of the Qing dynasty and the social and political transformation of modern China.  His dissertation and first monograph, Reform and Revolution in China: the 1911 Revolution in Hunan and Hubei explored the social background of China’s republican revolution.  His book on The Origins of the Boxer Uprising won the John K. Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Association and the Joseph R. Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies.  Ancestral Leaves explored the tumultuous history of nineteenth and twentieth-century China through the lives of successive generations of one family. His new monograph, Accidental Holy Land: The Communist Revolution in Northwest China, is a study of the founding of the Shaan-Gan-Ning border region of northwest China.  In edited volumes, Esherick has analyzed Chinese local elites, the transformation of Chinese cities, American policy toward China during World War II, the Cultural Revolution, and the transition from empire to nation in comparative perspective, and the year 1943 in China. After forty years of teaching at the University of Oregon and the University of California at San Diego, Esherick retired in 2012 and now lives in Berkeley, California.

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