The Shift of Paradigms in Writing Chinese History

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


In China’s long history, historical writing can be traced back to as early as 843BCE. From then until today, Chinese historiography has generally witnessed four major changes of paradigms. Starting from the Han dynasty, historians were organized by various and consecutive imperial rulers to compile histories of the former dynasty. These official histories tended to be centered on the rise and fall of different empires with a focus on former emperors, officials, wars, and legal systems. Very little ink had been spilled on science, medicine, agriculture, and art. In the late Qing dynasty, new historiography from the West was introduced into China via Japan. The new historiography differed sharply from the traditional one as it shifted to groups of homogenous people and social and human evolution. In the 1930s, a new generation of Marxist historians arose with a clarion call of a historiography based on class theory and historical materialism. After the CCP took over mainland China, however, communist historians were increasingly compelled to write histories appealing to the political needs of the Party including tweaking and fabricating histories. Mao’s death and the end of the ultra-left era in 1976 helped loosen the political grip and historians were given more freedom in writing. Like their counterparts in the late Qing, many young historians were eager to deviate from the orthodox Marxist historiography and began embracing Western historiography and theories. More important, the latest paradigm of historiography markedly demonstrates a wide variety and interest in microhistories that have been either downplayed or dismissed by previous historians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationParadigm Shifts in Chinese Studies
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages37
ISBN (Electronic)9789811680328
ISBN (Print)9789811680311
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2022.


  • Evolutionary
  • Historiography
  • Marxist
  • Paradigm
  • Western


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