Yi Ren

  • Fellowship year:2022-2023
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: China
  • Dissertation Title: Embodying the Maoist Message: Grassroots Propaganda Agents in the Chinese Countryside, 1949–1978
  • This dissertation focuses on a large body of grassroots propaganda agents, who were tasked with shaping both the mindscapes and landscapes of the Chinese countryside during the Mao Era. Geographically focused on Southeast Shanxi, it explores how this cohort functioned as the nucleus of Mao’s rural propaganda machine, how they empowered themselves with valuable opportunities and upward social mobility, and how they continuously redrew the boundaries between the Party-state and grassroots Chinese society.

    Based on previously untouched county archival materials and fresh oral histories, this dissertation is the first critical study of the Chinese Communist Party’s grassroots propaganda agents at the village level. These agents stood at the nexus of official propaganda departments and the vast rural populace. In exploring their connectedness with both the authorities and the rural people, this dissertation highlights grassroots experiences and individual agency in Socialist China. Centering on the oft-dismissed social dimension of propaganda, this dissertation demonstrates that the effectiveness of Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda in the countryside depended not on ideological persuasion or a newly created political culture, but on constant and dynamic interactions between the Party and its grassroots agents.