British Engagements with Chinese Cultural Revolution material culture

This is an online event only.

Collecting the Revolution: British Engagements with Chinese Cultural Revolution material culture

In recent years, there has been emerging scholarly interest in ‘global Maoisms’—the impact and influence Chinese communism had around the world—but because Britain had a poorly developed Marxist-Leninist movement, and lacked the same engagement on an intellectual or activist level as elsewhere, ‘British Maoism’ is often thought to have been limited to the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the far left. In this talk, however, I argue that Britain had a complex and multi-layered engagement with Mao’s China, and this can be seen to have taken place at least partly through engagement with Chinese material and visual culture (‘propaganda’ posters, Chairman Mao badges, porcelain and ceramics, objects from everyday life, ‘Mao suits’ etc.). I trace the emergence of this interest through popular culture sources from the 1960s and 1970s, and draw on oral historical research in order to explore the heterogeneous nature of individuals’ and groups’ engagements, both at the time and since. Finally, I look at the incorporation of this material culture into private and particularly public museum and university collections in Britain, and argue that these collections constitute part of the legacy of British engagements with the Cultural Revolution.

Emily Williams is an Associate Professor in the Department of China Studies, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou. Her research focuses on the art and material culture of the Maoist period, its legacies in contemporary China, and the collection of this material in China and the United Kingdom. Her first book, Collecting the Revolution: British engagements with Chinese Cultural Revolution material culture was recently published by Rowman & Littlefield.


Emily Williams

Dates & times

Thursday, 8 September 2022

4.00pm - 5.30pm



Updated:  6 October 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team