Maurice Jerome Meisner (November 17, 1931 – January 23, 2012) was an historian of 20th century China and professor at the
University of Wisconsin–Madison A university ( la, universitas, 'a whole') is an institution of higher (or tertiary) education and research which awards academic degrees in various academic disciplines An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of know ...
. His study of the Chinese Revolution and the
People's Republic People's republic is an official title used by some currently or formerly communist or left-wing states. It is mainly associated with soviet republics, socialist states following people's democracy, sovereign state A sovereign state is a p ...
was in conjunction with his strong interest in
socialist Socialism is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, social, and economic philosophy encompassing a range of Economic systems, economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production.Arnold, N. S ...
Marxism Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand Social class, class relations and social conflict as well as a dialectical p ...
, and Maoism in particular. He authored a number of books including ''Mao's China: A History of the People's Republic'' (and subsequent editions) which became a standard academic text in that area. Maurice Meisner was born in
Detroit (strait) , nicknames = The Motor City, Motown, Renaissance City, City of the Straits, The D, D-Town, Hockeytown, The Automotive Capital of the World, Rock City, The 313, The Arsenal of Democracy, The Town That Put The Wor ...
Michigan Michigan () is a U.S. state, state in the Great Lakes region, Great Lakes and Upper Midwest regions of the United States. Its name comes from the Ojibwe language, Ojibwe word ''mishigami'', meaning "large water" or "large lake". With a popu ...

in 1931 to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He had two marriages each lasting about 30 years, first to Lorraine Faxon Meisner and subsequently to Lynn Lubkeman. He had three children from the first marriage and one child from the second. He died at his home in Madison, Wisconsin in 2012.

Early years

Meisner grew up in Detroit during the austere years of the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across the world; in most countries, it started in 1929 and l ...
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a World war, global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved World War II by country, the vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great ...
. But by the time he reached adulthood during the post-war boom, Detroit was a thriving center of culture as well as the auto industry. He remained in Detroit, enrolling at Wayne State University. An outstanding student, Meisner was admitted to a graduate program there after only two years of college. However this was also the beginning of the
Cold War The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a Federalism, federal socialist state in Northern Eurasia that existed from ...
and the Red Scare in the U.S., having serious repercussions on the personal lives of Maurice Meisner and his wife Lorraine. As part of the McCarthy era investigations, Lorraine was subpoenaed before the
House Un-American Activities Committee The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA), popularly dubbed the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and from 1969 onwards known as the House Committee on Internal Security, was an investigative United States Congressional co ...
(HUAC) in 1952 in relation to her attendance at the World Festival of Youth and Students held in East Berlin the previous year. Like most witnesses called before hearings of HUAC or the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), Lorraine Meisner refused to testify to the body. Although this assertion of her Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Fifth Amendment rights had no direct legal consequences, David Henry, president of Wayne State University where she was also a student, saw fit to expel her from the university. Although seen as an unusually harsh move even at the time, other schools were reluctant to admit a student dismissed under such circumstances. The Meisners moved to Chicago after they had been accepted to study at the University of Chicago, where they both would eventually receive doctorates. Maurice Meisner undertook to study Chinese history at a time when this would be considered an obscure choice, but where the emerging significance of China might be discerned in the wake of the Chinese Revolution (1949), 1949 revolution and role of China in the Korean War. This included studying the Chinese language to do research and travel in order to collaborate with the rather few China scholars of the time. Meisner's doctoral dissertation was prepared under the Sovietologist Leonard Haimson and developed in further year of research at the East Asian Research Center at Harvard. It was later published by Harvard University Press. In it, Meisner studied the original contributions to Chinese revolutionary theory by the co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party, Li Dazhao to show that the adaptation of Marxism to China which had been attributed to Mao Zedong had actually been accomplished by Li. Maurice Meisner was an early member of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars (CCAS). In addition to opposing American participation in the Vietnam War, the group also involved itself in demystifying China at a time in which "Red China" was regularly portrayed as a threat to America, arguably surpassing the Soviet Union as a target of anti-communist sentiment toward the end of the 1960s. Meisner wrote for their publication, the ''Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars'', and at the time of his death in 2012 he was still listed on the advisory board of the journal. Beginning with an article in the 1963 ''The China Quarterly'', he published articles in the leading journals in the field, including ''Asian Survey'', ''Current History'', ''Journal of Asian Studies'', and ''Modern China (journal), Modern China'', among others.

Main career

Meisner earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Chicago and was awarded fellowships at Harvard University and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, California). In 1968 he left his first faculty position at the University of Virginia to accept a professorship at the
University of Wisconsin–Madison A university ( la, universitas, 'a whole') is an institution of higher (or tertiary) education and research which awards academic degrees in various academic disciplines An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of know ...
where he would remain for the rest of his career. He took sabbaticals at the Woodrow Wilson Center (1980) and at the London School of Economics (1999).

Teaching at the University of Wisconsin

In 1968 the nation was in a state of apprehension and unrest given the continuing war in Vietnam and movements for the empowerment of minorities. This was the same year as the Tet Offensive which became widely viewed as a psychological turning point in the Vietnam war and American public opinion, the assassination of Martin Luther King and its aftermath, 1968 Democratic National Convention protest activity, anti-war protests and police violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and election of Richard Nixon as president. Protest activity on and off the university campuses was reaching a crescendo and Madison happened to be one of the University of Wisconsin–Madison#Student activism, most affected campuses, bolstered by its large student body which in large part came from outside of Wisconsin. Highlights included militant protests against Dow Chemical Company, Dow Chemical which produced the napalm used in Vietnam, demonstrations and student strike demanding a Africana studies, Black Studies department at the university, a campus-wide strike by graduate assistants, the nationwide Student Strike of 1970, student strike following the 1970 U.S. Cambodian Campaign, invasion of Cambodia, and the 1970 Sterling Hall bombing, bombing of the Army Math Research Center also in protest of the war. Radical politics was in the air, bringing to the fore radical organizations and ideologies ranging from anarchism to various Marxist philosophy, Marxist currents. Thus Maurice Meisner began teaching the history of the Chinese revolution not only at the very time when revolutionary politics was being widely explored and debated, but where the specifics of the Chinese revolution seemed very relevant to many radicalizing youth who were hardly enthralled by the nominally Marxist pro-Soviet Communist Party USA, Communist Party (which threw its electoral support to the Democratic Party (United States), Democratic Party). The Chinese Communist Party, in contrast, had denounced the Marxism of the Soviet Union as "revisionist," and Maoist groups were prominent among the more militant factions involved in protest actions and ideological debate. Interest in Meisner's Chinese history course was greatly bolstered by this perception of an international revolutionary pole headquartered in China along with Meisner's sympathy with the socialist goals underlying the Chinese revolution. Thus the one-time niche field of Chinese history gave way to a wider politically motivated audience requiring a large lecture hall. 1968 was during the Cultural Revolution in China, which received much fanfare among Western radicals but about which little was actually known. Many Maoists in the West found inspiration in the (perceived) role of the Red Guards (China), Red Guards, just as the English version of Mao's Red Book became widely toted as a revolutionary handbook. Competing Maoist groups in the U.S. (such as from the Students for a Democratic Society#Climax and split: 1968–1969, breakup of SDS) and the West attached themselves to the legacy of Mao Zedong and the cultural revolution, propelling interest in the recent history of China, the subject of Meisner's continuing research. As various absurdities and abuses committed during the Cultural Revolution became known, reactions of Maoist factions ranged from soul-searching to denial. Of obvious interest was Meisner's related research, although this was at a time when visiting the People's Republic was still impossible (as were visits by Chinese individuals to the West). Despite the difficulty in obtaining objective information, his study of the period made it into the classroom and would be incorporated into his 1977 work ''Mao's China: A History of the People's Republic.''

Post-Mao China

By the late 1970s not only had the earlier wave of campus radicalism subsided, but definite changes were underway in China which were troubling, at best, to the remaining American Maoist currents and the so-called New Communist Movement which had emerged from the remnants of the New Left. Fascination with the cultural revolution had benefited from popular perceptions and slogans at a time when direct contact with Chinese communists was sparse, but in the years following Richard Nixon's 1972 Nixon visit to China, China visit that began to change. With the death of Mao and the defeat of the Gang of Four, the political course of China was to rapidly change, whereas Western observers, both on the right and on the left, were often unable or unwilling to recognize the enormity of the transformation that had begun. This was just as Meisner's major work ''Mao's China'' was going to press, documenting the history and dynamics of the Chinese revolution up to that point. A subsequent edition of that book published in 1985 included additional chapters addressing the aftermath of the power struggle, but which still saw the Chinese economic reform, market reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping as a tactical turn in the development of socialism. Following some years of China's accelerating economic and political evolution, however, Meisner's assessment of the entire period became more sober as he traced the rise of what he termed "bureaucratic capitalism," albeit under the official banner of building "socialism with Chinese characteristics." Indeed, he saw the economic transformations underway as having set the stage for the democracy movement of 1989. The curious evolution of socialist China towards capitalism, all the while maintaining Communist Party of China, Communist Party rule, was the subject of Meisner's 1996 work ''The Deng Xiaoping Era: An Inquiry into the Fate of Chinese Socialism, 1978-1994''. Meisner was himself in Beijing in 1989 up until a week before the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, crackdown on the democracy movement. His analysis of the protest movement contradicted both the official characterization of it as a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" and the Western media's inclination to depict any movement for greater democracy as welcoming of capitalism. Rather than simple concerns for greater democracy, the movement was propelled by a disgust of privilege attained by powerful bureaucrats which was seen as official corruption, and in fact a result of the market reforms. Meisner writes: :[Calls against] "Corruption" now conveyed a moral condemnation of the whole system of bureaucratic privilege and power.... But now that Communist leaders, high and low, were so deeply enmeshed in profiteering in the presumably "free" marketplace, they had gone well beyond the bounds of politico-ethical legitimacy in popular perceptions. The use of political power for private gain was viewed as unfair and unjust, and it inflamed slumbering resentments against bureaucratic privilege.

Harvey Goldberg

It was not only students and young people involved in the tumultuous social/political struggles permeating the campus during the 1960s and 70s. The issues rocking the campus naturally created divisions among academics, and most particularly those in history and the other the social sciences where the sorts of issues being played out on the streets were the very subject of academic instruction. In this context one can easily appreciate that Maurice Meisner would have connected to like-minded colleagues in the history department, resulting in a personal friendship with Professor Harvey Goldberg whose study of social movements in modern Europe mirrored Meisner's similar study of contemporary China. Goldberg was very well known and became extremely popular among radical students who would pack his lecture hall as he delivered his Harvey Goldberg#Teacher, memorable orations which often took less the form of history lectures than as passionate political statements. Their friendship endured well past the heyday of campus activism, with them spending considerable time together as Goldberg's health suffered toward the late 1980s. Struck by the death of his friend in 1987, Meisner was instrumental in establishing the ''Harvey Goldberg Center for the Study of Contemporary History'' to honor and remember the beloved professor. In the spirit of Harvey Goldberg, the center would go on to sponsor quite a number of speakers, conferences and symposia especially around issues of social concern, connecting the study of history and society with activism as well as maintaining an archive of Goldberg's work. Maurice Meisner assumed the title of ''Harvey Goldberg Professor of History'' for the remainder of his university career. Towards the end of his life, in 2009, a conference was held in honor of Meisner's distinguished career entitled "Reflections on History and Contemporary Change in China Before and After Tiananmen." The four-day conference, co-sponsored by the Harvey Goldberg Center, included a number of Meisner's former students, now themselves noted scholars of Chinese history. Following that conference three of Meisner's former students undertook to author and edit a book entitled ''Radicalism, Revolution, and Reform in Modern China: Essays in Honor of Maurice Meisner''. The authors presented Meisner with an early copy of the book honoring him in 2011, the year before he died.

Major works

*''Li Ta-Chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism.'' Harvard East Asian Series, 27. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967). *with Rhoads Murphey, eds. ''The Mozartian Historian: Essays on the Works of Joseph R. Levenson.'' (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976). . *''Mao's China: A History of the People's Republic'' (New York: Free Press, 1977; revised 2nd ed. 1986). . **''Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic.'' (New York: Free Press, 3rd ed., 1999). . *''Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism: Eight Essays.'' (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982). . *''The Deng Xiaoping Era: An Inquiry into the Fate of Chinese Socialism, 1978-1994.'' (New York: Hill and Wang, 1996). . *''Mao Zedong: A Political and Intellectual Portrait.'' (Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity, 2007). .


External links

Meisner, Maurice (2007) ''The Place of Communism in Chinese History: Reflections on the Past and Future of the People's Republic of China'', (27 pages) Macalester International: Vol. 18, Article 8.Meisner, Maurice (1999) ''The significance of the Chinese revolution in world history'' Working Paper, 1. (13 pages) Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.Obituary: ''Maurice Meisner, historian of modern China, dies at 80'' by Susannah Brooks, University of Wisconsin–Madison News
{{DEFAULTSORT:Meisner, Maurice 1931 births 2012 deaths American historians Writers about China American Maoists American sinologists Historians of China Jewish American historians American male non-fiction writers Jewish socialists Wayne State University alumni University of Chicago alumni Academics of the London School of Economics University of Virginia faculty University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty People from Detroit