Maoist Era Upheaval and Political Interest in China

30 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020

See all articles by Anil Menon

Anil Menon

University of Michigan

Jiannan Zhao

UC San Diego - Political Science

Date Written: July 16, 2020


This paper bridges research on political generations with work into the legacy of traumatic experiences. Specifically, we argue that periods of systemic societal upheaval engender durable political generations. We test this theoretical expectation in China, using 6 nationally representative surveys spanning 22 years. Our hierarchical age-period-cohort analyses reveal a distinct Maoist era generation, characterized by heightened political interest compared to pre- and post-Mao cohorts. This generational difference in political interest is absent across neighboring countries, providing additional confidence that our findings result from distinct political socialization environments of different cohorts. We also provide suggestive evidence for three channels that contribute to the generational effect: systemic state-led persecution, mass mobilization, and a political climate saturated with indoctrination, fear, and anxiety. Past research has emphasized the lasting impact of persecution and mobilization on political attitudes. Our findings demonstrate that enduring legacies can also manifest among peers not directly exposed to such experiences.

Keywords: Political interest, Maoist generation, societal upheaval, environmental effects

Suggested Citation

Menon, Anil and Zhao, Jiannan, Maoist Era Upheaval and Political Interest in China (July 16, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Anil Menon

University of Michigan ( email )

Jiannan Zhao (Contact Author)

UC San Diego - Political Science ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States


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