Grassroots Activism in 20th-Century Asia: Lessons from Russia, China, and North Vietnam 

AHA Session 264
Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Nan Kim, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Robert Culp, Bard College

Session Abstract

As nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise around the world, so has grassroots activism and civil disobedience increasingly challenged authoritarian governments. To shed light on current events, our panel seeks to explore historical lessons from 20th-century Asia, including Russia, China, and North Vietnam. Our papers take a bottom-up approach by focusing on grassroots social movements and looking at the processes by which students, intellectuals, and villagers became activists and - in some cases - revolutionaries. How did they frame dissent? In what ways did they embrace local and global concerns that had historical resonance? What did it mean for some grassroots activists to become eventually commemorated as martyrs within revolutionary narratives?

Each of the four papers deals with a different part of Asia in various historical contexts.The scope of our session ranges from post-October Revolution of the Soviet Union, to late 1950s’ China and North Vietnam. Mark Moll studies exile-settlers in Siberia who were reimagined and celebrated as revolutionaries and martyrs in publications after the October Revolution. Both Yidi Wu and Alex-Thai Vo trace responses to Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956 from intellectuals in communist regimes, China and North Vietnam respectively, and connect domestic politics with global events. Taken together, our comparative transregional panel raises timely questions about the nature of popular dissent, and it will be of interest to scholars of Asia, transnational history, and activism and social movements.

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