Yi Ren

My dissertation, "Embodying the Maoist Message: Grassroots Propagandists in the Chinese Countryside, 1949–1978" focuses on a large body of grassroots propagandists, who were tasked with shaping both minds capes and landscapes of the Chinese countryside during the Mao Era. It explores how this cohort functioned as the nucleus of Mao's rural propaganda machine, how they empowered themselves with valuable opportunities and upward social mobility, and how they continuously redrew the boundaries between the Party-state and grassroots Chinese society. 

This dissertation is based on previously untouched county archival materials and fresh oral histories. Each chapter spotlights a specific group of grassroots propagandists, such as Party-supported opera actors, blind storytellers, rural activists in literature and art, rural educated youth, and child propagandists. In exploring their connectedness with both the authorities and the rural masses, this dissertation highlights grassroots experiences and individual agency in Socialist China. It demonstrates that the effectiveness of the Chinese Communist propaganda in the countryside depended not on ideological persuasion or a newly created political culture, but on constant and dynamic interactions among the Party, its grassroots agents, and the rural population. Propaganda policies in the PRC politicized daily life and established social control through extremely localized, contingent process rather than through centrally dictated ideological rhetoric. 


M.A. American History, Sino-American Relations, Peking University, China (2014)

B.A. History, Sichuan University China (2011)

Research Interests

Modern China, Chinese Communist Propaganda, China in the First World War, World History.

Courses Taught

History of Modern China (Spring 2023, Penn)

Chinese Cultural History (Fall 2021, Rowan University)

Modern China (Spring 2022, Rowan University)

Making of a Modern World (Spring 2018, Penn)

East Asian Diplomacy (Fall 2017, Penn)

Introduction to Asian American History (Spring 2017, Penn)

American Diplomatic History since 1776 (Fall 2017, Penn)

Selected Publications

"To Be Red: Child Propagandists and Their Success in the Cultural Revolution," in Shi-wen Sue Chen and Sin Wen Lan eds, Representations of Children and Success in Asia: Dream Chasers (London, New York: Routledge, 2023).

"From Disillusioned Returned Youth to Party Propagandists: Rural Educated Youth and Their Involvement in Rural Clubs in Southeast Shanxi, 1961–1965," Twentieth-Century China 47, 3 (October 2022), 287–306.

“‘Relying on America’: The CPI’s Propaganda in China and Its Influence on China’s Pursuit of a New National Identity before the May Fourth Movement,” Frontiers of History in China, Vol.14, No.3, 2019, pp.427-457. 

"Historiography on U.S. Foreign Propaganda during WWI," in Xu Lan ed, Modern International Relations, no. 11, World Knowledge Publisher, 2017.

"Introduction on CPI Archive," in Xu Lan ed, Modern International Relations, no.11, World Knowledge Publisher, 2017.

"The Analysis of U.S. Congress and the Issue of MFN Treatment to PRC, 1989–1994," Journal of Department of History, Tsinghua University, vol.5, pp.152–175.

Forthcoming Project:

Translator for the Chinese version of William H. McNeill, The Global Condition: Conquerors, Catastrophes, and Community, Princeton University Press, 1992 (Under Contract with Peking University Press, and expected to be published in 2022).