Jeremy Brown: Pick a dictator

February 27, 2014

Dr. Jeremy Brown's meditations on teaching and writing about twentieth century Chinese history were published in this month's issue of the Times Literary Supplement. Read an excerpt below, and find the full article on the TLS website.

  • I used to ask students who took an introductory class on twentieth-century China, “If you had lived in China during the 1930s and 1940s, would you have supported the Communists or the Nationalists?” One American student rejected the question, writing that he could not imagine setting foot in China because it was such an impoverished and violent hellhole, especially during the years of China’s war against Japan (1937–45), the Civil War between the Communists and Nationalists (1945–9), and the Mao Zedong era (1949–76).

    I thought I had failed as a teacher. My goal had been to teach students to have empathy for the tragedies Chinese people suffered during the Second World War and the Communist revolution, but also to recognize how much progress China had made. I had hoped to inspire students to want to learn more about China and to travel and work there, but my lectures’ emphasis on blood and gore had turned off one student for good. I resolved to tone down the violence in my future classes and to balance the narrative with stories that would make students want to make the trip to China...

Excerpted from the Times Literary Supplement.

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