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American Radical Economists in Mao’s China: From Hopes to Disillusionment


  • Isabella M Weber
  • Gregor Semieniuk

    () (Institute of Management Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)


American radical economists in the 1960s perceived China under Maoism as an important experiment in creating a new society, aspects of which they hoped could serve as a model for the developing world. But the knowledge of ‘actually existing Maoism’ was very limited due to the mutual isolation between China and the US. This paper analyses the First Friendship Delegation of American Radical Political Economists (FFDARPE) to the People’s Republic of China in 1972, consisting mainly of Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) members, which was the first visit of a group of American economists to China since 1949. Based on interviews with trip participants as well as archival and published material, this paper studies what we can learn about the engagement with Maoism by American radical economists from their dialogues with Chinese hosts, from their on-the-ground observations, and their reflection upon return. We show how the visitors’ own ideas conflicted and intersected with their perception of the Maoist practice on gender relations; workers’ management and life in the communes. We also shed light on the diverging conceptions of the role for economic expertise between URPE and late Maoism. As the first in-depth study on the FFDARPE we provide rich empirical insights into an ice-breaking event in the larger process of normalization in the Sino- U.S relations, that ultimately led to the disillusionment of the Left with China.

Suggested Citation

  • Isabella M Weber & Gregor Semieniuk, 2018. "American Radical Economists in Mao’s China: From Hopes to Disillusionment," Working Papers 212, Department of Economics, SOAS, University of London, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:soa:wpaper:212

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chowkwanyun, M., 2011. "The new left and public health: The health policy advisory center, community organizing, and the big business of health, 1967-1975," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 101(2), pages 238-249.
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    3. Michael Reich, 1993. "Radical Economics in Historical Perspective," Review of Radical Political Economics, Union for Radical Political Economics, vol. 25(3), pages 43-50, September.
    4. Tiago Mata & Frederic S. Lee, 2007. "The Role of Oral History in the Historiography of Heterodox Economics," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 39(5), pages 154-171, Supplemen.
    5. James M. Boughton, 2000. "The Case Against Harry Dexter White; Still Not Proven," IMF Working Papers 2000/149, International Monetary Fund.
    6. Riskin, Carl, 1998. "Seven questions about the Chinese famine of 1959-1961," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 111-124.
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    More about this item


    China; socialism and capitalism; transition economics; Maoism;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • B24 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Socialist; Marxist; Scraffian
    • N15 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Asia including Middle East
    • N45 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Asia including Middle East
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • P21 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - Planning, Coordination, and Reform
    • P32 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions - - - Collectives; Communes; Agricultural Institutions

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