photograph of Sigrid Schmalzer by Suzanne Bell Sigrid Schmalzer
Associate Professor of History
Director, Social Thought & Political Economy Program
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Ph.D. in Modern Chinese History
and Science Studies,
University of California, San Diego, 2004

Current Courses | Current Research | Other Publications (Selected)
Contact Information
History Department
Herter Hall 631
University of Massachusetts
161 Presidents Drive
Amherst, MA 01003-9312
(413) 545-6776
University of Massachusetts, Amherst seal

Fall, 2014 Course: History 114. China: Origins to 1600

This class offers an interdisciplinary approach to Chinese history up through the Ming Dynasty. It fulfills general education requirements in history (HS) and global diversity (G). We will be introducing you to history as a discipline, as a way of exploring the past – that is, the theory and practice of history. We will not be testing you on information that the textbook lays out on a platter. Instead, the most important readings will consist of primary sources. You will learn to read these sources, analyze them, and use them to form historical arguments (interpretations of the past). Some of the materials are secondary sources – that is, they're written by other historians who themselves have analyzed primary sources and formulated their own interpretations of Chinese history. But even in these cases, you will not passively read each page, underline the important facts, memorize them, and then take a test. Instead, you will think, talk, and write about how the authors use primary sources to make their historical arguments. This class satisfies the requirement in global diversity because it focuses on the history of a country that is not the United States or Europe. (This is obvious, right?) However, my goal is to teach a class on Chinese history that would satisfy diversity requirements even at a Chinese university. Why? Because we will emphasize the cultural diversity of China itself, the way it has changed over time and across space. China two thousand years ago was NOT the same as China today. The place we call China has not always had the same name; it has not always been the same size; its culture has changed a great deal over time and space. And China over the years has had changing relationships with foreign cultures; what we know as "China" has been shaped by these foreign cultures over time.
Draft syllabus (subject to revision)

Current Research and Related Publications

Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Encounters with Scientific Farming in Socialist China (Book manuscript under contract with University of Chicago Press)

In 1968 the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), William Gaud, coined the term "green revolution." He said, "Record yields, harvests of unprecedented size and crops now in the ground demonstrate that throughout much the developing world—and particularly in Asia—we are on the verge of an agricultural revolution... It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution."(1) The green revolution was thus not just about promoting new seed varieties, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides to increase yields and improve standards of living. Born of the Cold War, it was also a strategy for preventing the spread of ideologies opposed by the United States. If farmers around the world could be raised from poverty through technological improvements to agriculture, they might be less likely to seek political solutions to their problems. This was the premise behind USAID, which John F. Kennedy founded in 1961 to encourage economic development in impoverished countries lest communist rivals exploit the potential for revolution and "ride the crest of its wave—to capture it for themselves."(2)

The significance was not lost on observers in China, where Mao Zedong had brought a "red revolution" to victory in 1949, and where in 1966, still under his leadership, an even more tumultuous transformation had begun under the banner of "Cultural Revolution." In 1969, People's Daily reported that India's Minister of Food and Agriculture had "cried out in alarm that if the 'green revolution'... does not succeed, a red revolution will follow." For the benefit of its readers, the paper defined "green revolution" as "the so-called 'agricultural revolution' that the reactionary Indian government is using to hoodwink the people."(3) Indeed, India was one of the key targets of Cold War-era U.S. foreign aid precisely because communism had strong footholds there; throughout the Cold War, there was a real possibility that India might embrace communism by following the models of one of its two close neighbors, the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China. And so it is not surprising that China's dominant newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, should publicly criticize efforts to bring the green revolution to India.

Does this mean that socialist China opposed the new technologies of the green revolution or agricultural modernization more generally? No. Contrary to common perception, even the most radical leaders in socialist China embraced the causes of science and modernization. But their understanding of science was profoundly different from that to which we are accustomed. Most importantly, science could not be divorced from politics, and modernization could not be separated from revolution. What was anathema to Chinese radicals about the "green revolution" was not that it promoted modernization, but rather that it presupposed that science and technology were inherently apolitical forces capable of circumventing social and political revolution.

The socialist Chinese perspective was epitomized by an oft-quoted 1963 statement by Chairman Mao. Class struggle, the struggle for production, and scientific experiment are the three great revolutionary movements for building a mighty socialist country. These movements are a sure guarantee that Communists will be free from bureaucracy and immune against revisionism and dogmatism, and will forever remain invincible.(4)

It is hard to imagine a position further removed from that of U.S. political leaders like William Gaud. Implicit in the philosophy undergirding the green revolution was an assumption that science and technology could be divorced from social and political change, or even that science and technology were powerful precisely because they were somehow "objective" and so immune from the effects of society and politics. For Mao and other radicals in socialist China, however, science was a "revolutionary movement" alongside the more familiar political commitments of class struggle (i.e., the effort to combat the reemergence of power inequities favoring the formerly elite classes) and the struggle for production (i.e., the effort to increase the material base of the economy through a socialist organization of labor). And so for Mao and others in China the introduction of green revolution technologies could be politically legitimate only if it proceeded through red revolutionary means.

This meant, for example, the establishment of grassroots "scientific experiment groups" throughout the countryside in which "old peasants" with practical experience, "educated youth" with revolutionary zeal, and local cadres (officials) with correct political understanding would work together to identify needs and develop solutions. They would overturn "technocratic" approaches promoted by scientific elites and "capitalist roaders"; instead, they would place "politics in command." Indeed, the significance of their work was as much—and often more—political than technological. For example, when a team of teenage girls, named the March 8th Agricultural Science Group in honor of International Women's Day, used pig manure as fertilizer to increase production in a lackluster field, they struck a blow for "scientific farming"—not because their method involved a new technology, but because they overturned unscientific, old, sexist ideas about women's farming abilities. Far from being viewed as an apolitical force capable of solving problems without revolution, agricultural science in socialist China was itself a means for the radical transformation of society.

The goal of this book is to bring into view this unique intersection of red and green revolutions. I will not be raising socialist Chinese agricultural science as a model: it is always important to exercise caution when looking to history for models, and socialist China offers perhaps even more than the usually large set of complications found in any real society. But neither will I be holding it up as a cautionary example: socialist China is more than the simple picture of totalitarian oppression and ecological disaster that is presented in many accounts available in English. Rather, I will be using the example of socialist Chinese agricultural science to provoke, to challenge, to shake our own assumptions about what constitutes science, who counts as a scientific authority, and how agriculture should be organized or transformed. In the process of stretching our minds to grasp the different answers to these questions offered by socialist Chinese history, we will perhaps be better able to think critically and inspirationally about the prospects of agriculture in our own times and places.

The book will begin with a chapter relating the experiences of Western agricultural scientists who visited socialist China. The second chapter will turn to the perspectives of Chinese agricultural scientists -- some of whom interacted with the Western scientists and appear in their published reports, but whose own accounts, related after the Cultural Revolution, typically differ in profound ways. A third chapter will examine the involvement of rural people (peasants) in agricultural research and their experiences with the resulting new agricultural practices. Next I will take up the story of the "educated youth" who participated in vast numbers in agricultural scientific experiments and whose diaries, memoirs, and oral histories offer rich -- and often interestingly contradictory -- evidence of the significance of these activities. I plan to conclude the book with a "bug's-eye view" of the changes to agriculture -- a kind of ecological history with insect control science at the center.

1. William Gaud, "Revolution: Accomplishments and Apprehensions," address before The Society for International Development, 8 March 1968.
2. John F. Kennedy, "Special message to Congress on urgent national needs, 25 May 1961," Speech Files, Papers of John F. Kennedy, Presidential Papers, President's Office Files. Available on Accessed 19 January 2014.
3. Renmin ribao, "Zhengzhi jingji weiji riyi jiashen," 1969.10.25, p. 5.
4. From Quotations from Mao Zedong, Chapter 3: "Socialism and Communism."


CHINESE VERSION: "红色革命,绿色革命:邂逅在毛时代的中国的科学化种植"

1968年,美国国际开发署署长威廉•高德提出了“绿色革命”这一概念。他说,"创纪录的产量,史无前例的丰收和田间作物均证明了在大部分发展中国家,尤其是在亚洲,人类正站在农业革命的边缘…这不是像苏维埃一样暴力的红色革命,也不是像伊朗沙阿一样的白色革命。我把它叫做绿色革命。" (1)


中国的观察者们并没有忽视“绿色革命”的政治意义。在中国,1949年毛泽东带领“红色革命”走向胜利。1966年同样是在毛的领导下,一场更为动荡的转型在“文化大革命”的旗帜下开始了。1969年人民日报报导印度粮食和农业部长“绿色革命”。。。如果不能成功,将要引起红色革命。”为了其读者的利益,文章将“绿色革命”定义为“印度反动政府用来欺骗人民的所谓“农业革命。”(3) 确实,印度是冷战时期美国对外援助的主要目标之一,因为共产党在那里有牢固的立足点。贯穿整个冷战时期,印度很有可能效仿两个近邻,苏联或者中华人民共和国,信奉共产主义。所以中国的主要报纸,作为中国共产党的喉舌,公开谴责向印度引入绿色革命就不足为奇了。


毛时代的中国的观点可以概括为一段经常被引用的陈述,出自1963年毛主席的一段声明。"阶级斗争、生产斗争和科学实验,是建设社会主义强大囯家的三项伟大革命运动,是使共产党人免除官僚主义、避免修正主义和教条主义,永远立于不败之地的确实保证。" (4)





1. William Gaud, "Revolution: Accomplishments and Apprehensions," address before The Society for International Development, 8 March 1968.
2. See "President Kennedy's Special Message to Congress" (May 25, 1961), The Pentagon Papers, v. 2, p. 804.
3. "政治经济危机日益加深," 人民日报,1969.10.25第5版。
4. 毛主席语录,第三章:社会主义和共产主义。



Related Publications to Date:

"Youth and the 'Great Revolutionary Movement'of Scientific Experiment in 1960s-70s Rural China," in Jeremy Brown and Matthew Johnson, eds. Maoism at the Grassroots (Harvard University Press, forthcoming).

"Self-Reliant Science: The Impact of the Cold War on Science in Socialist China," in Naomi Oreskes and John Krige, eds. Science and Technology in the Global Cold War (MIT Press, forthcoming 2014).

"Insect Control in Socialist China and the Corporate Unites States: the Act of Comparison, the Tendency to Forget, and the Construction of Difference in 1970s U.S.-Chinese Scientific Exchange," Isis 104.2 (2013): 303-329.

"Speaking about China, Learning from China: Amateur China Experts in 1970s America," Journal of American-East Asian Relations, December 2009.

"On the Appropriate Use of Rose-Colored Glasses: Reflections on Science in Socialist China," Isis 98.3:571-583, September 2007.

Other Research Projects and Publications (Selected)


Conference and Website

  • "Science for the People: The 1970s and Today" (conference held 11-13 April 2014 at UMass Amherst; website preserves video of all speakers and panels along with archival materials documenting the history of the organization Science for the People)


  • "Popular Science, A Useful and Productive Category after All", Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42.5 (2012): 590-600.

  • "The Very First Lesson: Teaching about Human Evolution in 1950s China," in Dilemmas of Victory, ed. Jeremy Brown and Paul Pickowicz (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007).

  • "Labor Created Humanity: Cultural Revolution Science on Its Own Terms," in The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, ed. Joseph Esherick, Paul Pickowicz, and Andrew Walder (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2006).

  • Ph.D. Dissertation (UCSD, 2004): "The People's Peking Man: Popular Paleoanthropology in Twentieth-Century China"

  • "Fishing and Fishers in Penghu, Taiwan, 1895-1970," East Asian History 23:109-128, June 2002.

  • "Breeding a Better China: Pigs, Practices, and Place in a Chinese County, 1929-1937," The Geographical Review 92(1): 1-22, January 2002.

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