Having finished the first half of the semester, I have finished writing one of the two main research papers that have been assigned to me this spring. The first was the easier one, and also the less interesting of the two. The second is the one I turn to now, to focus my attention and tackle head-on. Sitting at the very beginning of projects like this is the worst part for me; the whole thing looming in front of me is intimidating. The paper is not due until the final week of class, around April 21 I think, but this is going to require a lot of thought and time. I also hate hate the crunch feeling of finishing a huge assignment the day (or even last few days) before it is due. So, ahead I charge. The assignment (for my World Since 1945 class) is to research an event of international political significance that has taken place between 1945 and 1999. Approaching it at a specific angle-- versus just attempting to do "the Vietnam War"-- we need to examine three primary sources relating to that event. So basically, I need three sources coming from the time period that the event occurred, analized and compared in 5 pages. I've not done much yet in my career in history with primary sources, and that is essentially the bread-and-butter of an historian's job. Examining the documents (journals, letters, government documents, etc.) that remain from history give us the real insight. It is when the analysis comes in that books and essays are created, giving us the perspectives we may have on history. You have historians to thank for compiling and tidying much of the history you know.
For my topic, I have chosen the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that Mao Tse-tung began in communist China in the 1960's. His confidence that tradition and intellectuals would ruin the socialist society was so strong, thousands died in the wake of their attempted obliteration. This is when the Red Guard came to be, and images still linger of young children in their Maoist uniforms patrolling their country for "revisionists" who posed a threat to the state.
From this period of Chinese history I will draw several primary sources and narrow it down to the three that best bring varying viewpoints to the table. My initial research returned several works of compiled documents from the state and Mao, a compilation of first-person accounts of the response of Chinese villagers and peasants, and several works from reporters and diplomats from abroad who experienced the Cultural Revolution firsthand while there. I will be going through these sources and others, and hopefully narrowing it all down to my main three points of view on the singular movement. From there, I will look at the Cultural Revolution as an entity and use those three viewpoints to analyze it; vise-versa, I will use the context of the Cultural Revolution to analyze what is said in the documents I choose.
Sitting at the start, this seems like both a daunting and exhilarating project. But at the same time, this is an essential part of doing research-- looking at primary sources. And I couldn't ask for more flexibility in the topic, nor for a better topic. China is, after all, full of intrigue for a foreigner. So, I must get started.