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

Adolf Hitler, courtesy of the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
In the News

How To Be A Dictator By Frank Dikötter Review — Top Tips For Tyrants

featuring Frank Diköttervia The Times
Friday, October 4, 2019

[Subscription Required] How to be a dictator? Ruthlessness matters a lot more than talent, but luck most of all. That is the upshot of Frank Dikötter’s elegant and readable study of the cult of personality in the 20th century.


The People’s Republic Of China Was Born In Chains

by Frank Diköttervia Foreign Policy
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Communist Party calls 1949 a liberation. But China was far freer beforehand.

In the News

How To Be A Dictator By Frank Dikötter — The Tyranny Of Strongmen

featuring Frank Diköttervia Financial Times
Friday, September 27, 2019

A timely and enjoyable look about the personality of dictators and the need to defend democracy.

In the News

Book Of The Week: How To Be A Dictator By Frank Dikötter

featuring Frank Diköttervia Evening Standard
Thursday, September 5, 2019
For Dutch historian Frank Dikötter, the purpose of a dictator’s personality cult is clear. It is not to convince or persuade but rather to “sow confusion, to destroy common sense, to enforce obedience, to isolate individuals and crush their dignity”.
In the News

Mao's Great Famine

featuring Frank Diköttervia New Books Network
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
In the years he ruled the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong presided over the greatest mass murder in human history, both in his elimination of millions of perceived political enemies and also in the starving of tens of millions in callously engineered mass famine.
Photographic portrait of the “Great and Generous Leader,” Joseph Stalin.
In the News

New Book Unravels The Mind Of A Dictator

featuring Frank Diköttervia Outlook India
Saturday, August 24, 2019

In his new literary piece, award-winning academician Frank Dikotter talks about how naked power can be grabbed and held temporarily, but it never suffices in the long term. 

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Mao’s Road to Serfdom

by Russell Roberts interview with Frank Diköttervia Hoover Digest
Friday, January 25, 2019

Mao Zedong’s ambition to outshine Stalin led to waves of starvation, a grotesque and unworkable economy, and war against his own people. Hoover fellow Frank Dikötter on the Great Leap Forward, which was neither great nor forward.