American Radical Economists in Mao’s China: From Hopes to Disillusionment

Weber, Isabella Maria and Semieniuk, Gregor. 2018. American Radical Economists in Mao’s China: From Hopes to Disillusionment. Working Paper. SOAS Department of Economics Working Paper Series, London. [Report]

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Abstract or Description

American radical economists in the 1960s perceived China under Maoism as an important experiment in creating a new society, aspects of which they hoped could serve as a model for the developing world. But the knowledge of ‘actually existing Maoism’ was very limited due to the mutual isolation between China and the US. This paper analyses the First Friendship Delegation of American Radical Political Economists (FFDARPE) to the People’s Republic of China in 1972, consisting mainly of Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) members, which was the first visit of a group of American economists to China since 1949. Based on interviews with trip participants as well as archival and published material, this paper studies what we can learn about the engagement with Maoism by American radical economists from their dialogues with Chinese hosts, from their on-the-ground observations, and their reflection upon return. We show how the visitors’ own ideas conflicted and intersected with their perception of the Maoist practice on gender relations; workers’ management and life in the communes. We also shed light on the diverging conceptions of the role for economic expertise between URPE and late Maoism. As the first in-depth study on the FFDARPE we provide rich empirical insights into an ice-breaking event in the larger process of normalization in the SinoU.S relations, that ultimately led to the disillusionment of the Left with China.

Item Type:

Report (Working Paper)

Additional Information:

This is a draft article. The final version is forthcoming in Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Volume 37, 2019.


China, socialism and capitalism, transition economics, Maoism, B24, N15, N45, O10, P21, P32

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


October 2018

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Date Deposited:

01 Aug 2019 12:01

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:16


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