Distinguished Associate Professor of Arts & Sciences in China and Asia-Pacific Studies Associate Professor of History
I have a keen interest in the social and cultural history of China, particularly post-1949. My research primarily focuses on the historical and current nuances of everyday life in China under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. I delve into how routine practices, from clothing choices to underground reading and mate preferences among Chinese citizens, have been shaped by their experiences and memories from Mao's communist revolution to Deng's socio-economic reforms post-1978.
In attempting to grasp the intricacies of life during the Mao Era(1949-1976), I've pondered over the Chinese political system: How can a regime, despite its challenges, demonstrate such enduring resilience in the fullness of time? This question and its broader implications have been the cornerstone of my studies. While many esteemed colleagues have researched elite politics and power dynamics during the Mao era, I've been fortunate to shed light on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, their routines, and the subtle politics within—areas I felt deserved more attention. My aim isn't necessarily to measure the success or failure of China's Communist revolution since 1949, but to understand its influences on individuals and the lessons they've gleaned from it.
I've been privileged to engage in scholarly discussions in Chinese, English, and French. Over the years, I've been able to contribute a few articles to respected journals like The China Quarterly and The Chinese Historical Review, pen a couple of books in Chinese, and partake in various other academic endeavors. Currently, I'm working on a few projects, including two books and some articles in English. In 2016, I had the honor of collaborating on a special issue for The China Quarterly, and in 2017, I was fortunate to be a part of a team that produced a volume on the Chinese Cultural Revolution with Cambridge University Press.
My first book, Fashion and Politics (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2013), explores the subtleties of everyday sartorial choices, individual conformity and resistance in Guangdong province during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). I present three findings. First, Guangdong's proximity to Hong Kong and Macao significantly influenced local fashion. Many residents received clothing packages from relatives abroad. Second, the China Import and Export Fair in Guangzhou, persisting even during the Cultural Revolution, became a source of sartorial inspiration. Locals often observed and were influenced by the diverse attire of foreign attendees, which contrasted with their standard revolutionary garb. Finally, these sartorial trends set the stage for a major fashion transformation in China from the late 1970s to the 1980s. My book challenges prevalent stereotypes of monochromatic, uniform, and gender-neutral dress codes during the Cultural Revolution, highlighting the presence of regionally distinctive and gender-specific choices.
My second book, Who Will Marry My Daughter (Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press, 2012; 2013), examines how parents' experiences during the Mao era shaped their perspectives on their children's mate choices, particularly for those children born after China's economic opening in 1978. A curious trend has manifested since 2005: urban parks in major Chinese cities have become matchmaking hubs. Though countless parents congregate every weekend and holiday with hopes of finding potential spouses for their adult children, success remains elusive. I probe this phenomenon, suggesting that while these markets might not yield many matches, they serve as an emotional outlet for a generation facing the collective anxieties brought about by rapid market-driven changes and increasing individualism.
By merging insights from everyday clothing fashion with the intricacies of mate choices, I've strived for a comprehensive understanding of changing perceptions and dynamics within the PRC. Both books, as pioneering works in their respective areas, have been warmly received. Notably, Who Will Marry My Daughter achieved best-seller status in 2013, selling 10,000 copies within just two months of its debut.
Awards and Honors
Life And Death in China Under Mao (Fall)
Fashion And Politics In 20th Century China (Fall)
Global Maoism: Past And Present (Spring)
Tyranny And Dignity: Chinese Women From The Cultural Revolution To The White Paper Protests (Spring)
Books in Chinese
Peidong Sun. 2013. Fashion and Politics: Everyday Clothing Choices in Guangdong during the Cultural Revolution(Beijing: People’s Publishing House).
Peidong Sun. 2012; 2013. Who Will Marry My Daughter? The Parental Matchmaking Corner in Shanghai’s People’s Square(Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press).
Edited books in English
Patricia Thornton, Peidong Sun & Chris Berry eds. 2017. Red Shadows: Memories and Legacies of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Books in progress in English
Red Genes: How the Cultural Revolution Shaped the Xi Jinping Generation.
The Mentalities of the Chinese Communist Party: An Inside History.
A Certain Regard for China: Personal Accounts of French Academics Across Generations(Under contract with Routledge)
Fashion and Politics in China's Cultural Revolution(English Version)
Crossing the Three Great Walls: A Memoir