Maoist Era Upheaval and Political Interest in China


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.

Working Paper