This article describes the US origins of the field of PRC history. It argues that research on PRC history is widely derived from an approach to knowledge that predates area studies: the theory that societies can be controlled and changed through the transformation of human cognition—referred to as “public opinion,” “values,” “culture,” “political culture,” “tradition,” or “belief”—by nonviolent means. The author calls this approach to knowledge the values paradigm. A separate, but related argument is that this paradigm has proven more important than the availability or content of new sources in determining how PRC history has been written. The aim behind these arguments is twofold: to highlight the intellectual debt (or burden) that links PRC history, via area studies, to policy science; and to elucidate other ways of guiding research in place of the increasingly exhausted values paradigm–based approach. The conclusions they lead to are that historical and social scientific explanations of political change in China have become intellectually dependent on the abstraction of mass consciousness, and that this abstraction has been used to obscure the endemic violence of Maoism.

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