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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Deng and Mao: Changing Political Standing

This cover from a 1983 Time magazine demonstrates the challenging relationship between two of modern China's most influential figures.
The middle section of Option B for Change in the Modern World in the new Modern History HSC syllabus deals with the transition stage between the two big key events that form the basis of the study. In the 1960s we have the Cultural Revolution, and in 1989 we have the Tiananmen Square Incident, but between these flashpoints of great social upheaval there is a changeover of guard that helped to shape the course of Chinese history in the latter half of the 20th Century. The early 1970s saw Mao Zedong go into physical decline as he began to outwardly show signs of Parkinson's Disease, leading to his disappearance from the public eye before his death in 1976. By 1979 he would be succeeded as paramount leader by his co-revolutionary and long-time colleague Deng Xiaoping.

The details of China's political development in terms of key political figures can be seen here.

You'll note, however, that 1976 and 1979 are three years apart. It wasn't a smooth rise for Deng to become China's new helmsman, and Mao's own 'fall' from power isn't as clear cut as one might imagine. The involvement of Hua Guofeng as Mao's immediate successor, and the prosecution/scapegoating of the Gang of Four, are the two major factors that would eventually allow Deng to complete his 'rehabilitation' from persecuted enemy of the state in the Cultural Revolution to powerful and respected Party member in the wake of Mao's death.

Here's a resource that details the rises and falls of Mao and Deng in greater detail -Resource: Deng and Mao

In order to get students thinking about the impact of significant events on the way each of these men were perceived by the public and Chinese Communist Party, it will beneficial to encourage some degree of independent evaluation. Students can do this by looking at each dot point in the resource and assigning a score out of 10 indicating how popular and/or powerful they think Mao or Deng would have been in relation to said event. The results can then be plotted on a graph depicting their respective political standing, allowing for visual comparison of data created through direct engagement of the student with the historical detail.

It's numeracy in History!

The graph may look something like this. Be mindful that this is just based on the scores that I gave to each dot point - it isn't factual, it's a graphic representation of my opinion as an amateur historian. Each student should have different results as it will be based on their own evaluation of the events.

It's not an exact science as the data is evaluative rather than quantitative, however, it does help students represent their understand in a concrete and visible fashion.
You could do a couple of things after this, such as:
  • Compare and contrast results, encouraging debate around the nature of subjective evaluation when judging the merits of significant historical figures. 
  • Create an aggregated version of the graph  by taking averages of the class's combined scores and making one overall graph.
  • Have students write a paragraph response assessing the syllabus dot point on the changing political standing of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, using their newly created graph as evidence to draw upon.

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