Red Genesis

The Hunan First Normal School and the Creation of Chinese Communism, 1903-1921

By Liyan Liu

Subjects: History
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438445045, 267 pages, July 2013
Hardcover : 9781438445038, 267 pages, December 2012

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Exceptional Normal and the Paradox of Hunan
1. Reform in Hunan, 1895-1900
2. From Confucian Academy to Modern School
3. The Milieu of First Normal, 1912-1919
4. Teaching the New Culture: First Normal’s Faculty
5. Sage in Residence: Yang Changji
6. Provincial Scholars and Young Radicals
7. Education of a Provincial Radical: Cai Hesen

Looks at the role of the Hunan First Normal School in fostering a generation of founders and key figures in the Chinese Communist Party.


Winner of the 2013 Best Publication Award for Original Scholarship presented by the Association of Chinese Professors of Social Sciences in the United States

How did an obscure provincial teachers college produce graduates who would go on to become founders and ideologues of the Chinese Communist Party? Mao Zedong, Cai Hesen, Xiao Zisheng, and others attended the Hunan First Normal School. Focusing on their alma mater, this work explores the critical but overlooked role modern schools played in sowing the seeds of revolution in the minds of students seeking modern education in the 1910s. The Hunan First Normal School was one of many reformed schools established in China in the early twentieth century in response to the urgent need to modernize the nation. Its history is a tapestry woven of traditional Chinese and modern Western threads. Chinese tradition figured significantly in the character of the school, yet Western ideas and contemporary social, political, and intellectual circumstances strongly shaped its policies and practices. Examining the background, curriculum, and the reforms of the school, as well as its teachers and radical students, Liyan Liu argues that China's modern schools provided a venue that nurtured and spread new ideas, including Communist revolution.

Liyan Liu is Associate Professor of History at Georgetown College.


"…important and ambitious … a valuable resource for an array of scholars. " — China Review International

"…carefully researched … Liu's book accomplishes everything that a good case study should do … Red Genesis is a highly focused and specialized monograph … that speaks broadly and intelligently to important themes in modern Chinese history and will make a valuable addition to the libraries of scholars studying modern China's transformations. " — Asian Studies Review

"…an insightful history … Comprised of research and studies of a broad spectrum of writers and readers, Red Genesis is an indispensable resource for students in advanced degree programs, as well as undergraduates focusing on China Studies, Asian politics, or intellectual and educational history of East Asia. " — Chinese Historical Review

"…a useful account, for we have here a history of Hunan First Normal at a critical point in its history. " — Journal of Chinese Studies

"While [Liu] rightly fills a scholarly lacuna, she tells a fascinating story with a mix of super narratives and informative discourse to underscore First Normal's role in shaping a new generation of Chinese intellectuals … this is a finely crafted monograph. Its style is poetic, its tale interesting, its assessment sound, its structure solid, and its points transparent. " — American Review of China Studies