Liu, Liyan. Red Genesis: The Hunan First Normal School and the Creation of Chinese Communism, 1903-1921. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012.
There are numerous biographies of Chinese Communist Mao Zedong. At least three of them, by Jonathan Spence, Timothy Cheek, and Shaun Breslin, are conveniently located on my office bookshelf. It is not difficult for anyone interested in China to find more information about Mao and his comrades in virtually any library or via the Internet. Liyan Liu's work, however, is more than a biography. It provides an in-depth analysis of the origin of the Chinese communist movement. Through the author's painstaking research of archival documents, memoirs, newspapers, and other primary sources, the book answers several questions that have puzzled even the experienced China scholars. Where did the first generation of communists, such as Mao and his like-minded colleagues, get their ideas that would change China's fate? What propelled this group of young men and women to become determined communist fighters? Significantly, one could ask if there are any similarities between these young, ideologically-driven Chinese students of the early twentieth century and the revolutionary young people or radical extremists in developing countries in the contemporary world.
Liu, an Associate Professor of History at Georgetown College, successfully demonstrates that an obscure provincial teachers' college, Hunan Frist Normal School, one of the many reformist schools in early twentieth-century China, was the indispensable birth place of ideas that would end up transforming China during the subsequent decades. A unique faculty body, led by reform-minded principals, developed a brand new curriculum combining traditional Chinese thinking and Western ideas. Conditioned by such an intriguing hybrid curriculum, a large group of students metamorphosed from rural boys into young men with radical thoughts.
The author convincingly argues that the Chinese experience in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries paved the way for the school to become a hotbed of revolutionaries for both its teachers and students. The humiliating defeats at the hands of western powers since the Opium War, numerous unequal treaties forced upon China by the imperialist west, and the repeated failures at modernization reforms because of the conservatives' resistance convinced many educated Chinese that the only way was to reform and modernize. However, the...