The first rule of PRC history might be “Never take the Chinese Communists at their word.” Early observers praised the CCP, but by the 1990s there was broad disillusionment among China scholars who increasingly believed that observable realities contradicted official claims. In the post-disillusionment era, that realization became a methodology; generations of students were trained to look for sources that exposed the truths the Party ostensibly sought to hide. For archival historians this method has produced strange results, because many of the sources used to tell the untold stories of Chinese Communism are the Party's own documents. Even as historians read the state's internal records critically, there is still a tendency to be noticeably uncritical when those documents contain information that seems to vitiate official propaganda. This article explores the unreliable analyses that result when scholars attempt to turn state sources against the state. It further argues that much of the “damning” evidence against the Party actually appeared in official, published sources—but because archival historians often dismiss propaganda as fiction, the scholarship has not traced state claims closely enough to recognize and identify them in classified sources.

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