Frank Dikötter

Senior Fellow

Frank Dikötter is chair professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Before moving to Asia in 2006, he was professor of the modern history of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was born in the Netherlands, educated in Switzerland, and received his PhD from the University of London in 1990. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Leiden.

Frank has published a dozen books that have changed the way we look at the history of China, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China (Stanford University Press, 1992) to China before Mao: The Age of Openness (University of California Press, 2007). His Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China (University of Chicago Press, 2004) used archives from China, Europe, and the United States to challenge one of the cornerstones of current international drug policy, namely, the idea that opium changed China into a nation of addicts.

Most recently he has published a People's Trilogy, using newly opened files from the Chinese Communist Party’s own archives to document the impact of communism on the lives of ordinary people under Mao. The first volume, Mao's Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, won the 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, Britain’s most prestigious book award for non-fiction. It was selected as a Book of the Year by The Economist, the Independent, the Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard, The Telegraph, the New Statesman and the Globe and Mail, and has been translated into thirteen languages. The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2014. The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976 concludes the trilogy and was published in May 2016. He is currently working on a history of the cult of personality seen through the lives of eight dictators, from Mussolini to Mao and Mengistu.

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Recent Commentary

In the News

India’s Labour And Farm Reforms Should Be Just A Start

quoting Frank Diköttervia Live Mint
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A look at the East Asian development model offers an indication of how much more must be done.

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How to Be a Dictator

by Tunku Varadarajan featuring Frank Diköttervia Hoover Digest
Monday, April 20, 2020

Hoover fellow Frank Dikötter on the tribe of tyrants, from Stalin to Mao. What the bad guys have in common.

In the News

What We Can Learn From The 20th Century’s Worst Dictators

featuring Frank Diköttervia The Federalist
Saturday, April 4, 2020

Frank Dikötter's new book, 'How to Be a Dictator,' takes a sweeping look at some of the most tyrannical men of the last century and finds a surprising number of cautionary commonalities.


Frank Dikötter: How Do Dictators Seize Power? The Malevolent Careers Of Eight 20th-Century Leaders Explained

interview with Frank Diköttervia History Extra
Monday, March 9, 2020

Hoover Institution fellow Frank Dikotter discusses his recent book Dictators: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century.


Frank Dikotter: ‘Era Of Dictatorship Is Over … Need To Ensure Elected Leaders Don’t Take Us Back To De-Democratisation’

interview with Frank Diköttervia The Times of India
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Hoover Institution fellow Frank Dikotter discusses why most of the dictators he studied were from the 20th century.

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Liberated in Name Only

by Frank Diköttervia Hoover Digest
Monday, January 20, 2020

The People’s Republic of China’s seventieth anniversary was a hollow celebration.


Frank Dikötter: The Dictator And The Strongman

interview with Frank Diköttervia Rachman Review
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Hoover Institution fellow Frank Dikotter discusses his recent book How to be a Dictator, which is about the cult of personality behind some of the twentieth century’s most renowned dictators, as well as which of today's leaders fall under the same category.

In the News

How To Be A Dictator Identifies The Similarities Between Political Tyrants

featuring Frank Diköttervia Paste Magazine
Monday, December 30, 2019

Although spanning decades and seas, the men profiled in Frank Dikötter’s How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century share haunting similarities.

In the News

The Field Guide To Tyranny

featuring Frank Diköttervia The New Yorker
Monday, December 16, 2019

Dictatorship has, in one sense, been the default condition of humanity. The basic governmental setup since the dawn of civilization could be summarized, simply, as taking orders from the boss. Big chiefs, almost invariably male, tell their underlings what to do, and they do it, or they are killed.


The Bookmonger Episode 275: How To Be A Dictator By Frank Dikotter

interview with Frank Diköttervia The Bookmonger
Monday, December 2, 2019

Hoover Institution fellow Frank Dikotter discusses his book How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century.