The Hoover Project on China’s Global Sharp Power, Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies, and Stanford's Department of History presented Sparks: China's Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future on Monday, March 18, 2024 from 4:00 – 5:30 PM PT in Stauffer Auditorium.

Sparks: China's Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future describes how some of China's best-known writers, filmmakers, and artists have overcome crackdowns and censorship to forge a nationwide movement that challenges the Communist Party on its most hallowed ground: its control of history. The past is a battleground in many countries, but in China it is crucial to political power. In traditional China, dynasties rewrote history to justify their rule by proving that their predecessors were unworthy of holding power. Marxism gave this a modern gloss, describing history as an unstoppable force heading toward Communism's triumph. The Chinese Communist Party builds on these ideas to whitewash its misdeeds and glorify its rule. Indeed, one of Xi Jinping's signature policies is the control of history, which he equates with the party's survival. But in recent years, a network of independent writers, artists, and filmmakers have begun challenging this state-led disremembering. Using digital technologies to bypass China's legendary surveillance state, their samizdat journals, guerilla media posts, and underground films document a regular pattern of disasters: from famines and purges of years past to ethnic clashes and virus outbreaks of the present--powerful and inspiring accounts that have underpinned recent protests in China against Xi Jinping's strongman rule. Based on years of first-hand research in Xi Jinping's China, Sparks challenges stereotypes of a China where the state has quashed all free thought, revealing instead a country engaged in one of humanity's great struggles of memory against forgetting—a battle that will shape the China that emerges in the mid-21st century.

ABOUT THE SPEAKERS

Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has spent most of his adult life in China, working as a correspondent for The New York TimesNew York Review of Books, and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of other books that also focus on the intersection of politics and civil society, including The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, and Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China.

Glenn Tiffert is a distinguished research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a historian of modern China. He co-chairs Hoover’s project on China’s Global Sharp Power and directs its research portfolio. He also works closely with government and civil society partners around the world to document and build resilience against authoritarian interference with democratic institutions. Most recently, he co-authored Eyes Wide Open: Ethical Risks in Research Collaboration with China (2021).

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Schell is the author of fifteen books, ten of them about China, and a contributor to numerous edited volumes. He has written widely for many magazine and newspapers, including The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Time, The New Republic, Harpers, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Wired, Foreign Affairs, the China Quarterly, and The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

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