In China, the legacy of Mao Zedong is selectively remembered; the “late Mao,” in particular is officially considered to have made a “mistake” in launching the Cultural Revolution. In the West, we remember the romantic impact of Mao’s ideas on the Cold War left and on the generation of 1968, but we have little understanding of their often subterranean influence on the shape of cultural politics since the 1970s. This essay examines the historical case, and then tries to chart the path of Mao’s influence on educational reform, cultural and community activism, and legislative change in a period dominated by the high-profile campaigns of the Culture Wars. It argues that Maoist precepts like self-criticism, youth revolt and consciousness-raising have had a longer and more successful career in the West than in China itself. The continuing left debate between proponents of cultural justice and advocates of the primacy of social justice has also had a Maoist flavor. The essay concludes that the export of Mao’s ideas - in both the Cultural Revolution and the Culture Wars - has contributed greatly to our global understanding of the changed relationship between culture and politics.

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