A People's Weapon: Law and Propaganda in the Early People's Republic of China

Colloquium | October 28 | 4-6 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Jennifer Altehenger, Associate Professor in Chinese History, University of Oxford

 Rachel Stern, Professor, School of Law, University of California, Berkeley

 Li Ka Shing Foundation Program in Modern Chinese History

Throughout the history of modern China, people have been taught about their country's laws. Even as polities and regimes changed, they shared in common the conviction that to learn, know, and abide by laws should be an elementary civic duty. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the new government invested even more energy than its predecessors into devising methods to explain laws and make them accessible to everyone. Laws, the Chinese Communist Party maintained, were a product of the mass line and the legislative manifestation of people's needs. If laws belonged to the people and were to enable them to liberate China, then the party-state had to help impart legal knowledge and people had a duty to transform themselves into law-abiding citizens. Cultural and propaganda work assumed a pivotal role in mediating and at times even making laws. This talk examines how different groups - from state and party officials to cultural workers, editors, writers, artists, censors and many others - tried to popularize laws and with what results. Over time, the legal propaganda techniques they helped develop became important to party-state governance. Fostering a legal culture that at once strengthened and threatened party rule, these techniques significantly shaped the socialist state and its people during the Mao and post-Mao periods.