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Frank Dikötter to receive honorary doctorate at Dies Natalis 2017

Historian Frank Dikötter will receive an honorary doctorate from Leiden University for his work on the history of the Chinese Republican period and the People's Republic of China under Mao. He will be awarded the honorary degree during the university's Dies Natalis celebrations on 8 February 2017.

Dikötter will receive this distinction in recognition of the tremendous importance of his work for scholars in the area of the history of the Chinese Republican period and for both the scholarly and social significance of his work on the history of the People’s Republic of China under Mao.

Pioneering research

Dikötter specialised in the Republican period in Chinese history (1912–1949) and conducted pioneering research on the interaction between Western and Chinese ideas, theories, prejudices and ideology. In this endeavour he concentrated on aspects of westernisation and modernisation that were at odds with traditional Chinese morality and ethics, such as race, drugs, sex and sexuality, eugenics and prisons. His best-known book is The Discourse of Race of Modern China (1992), which fundamentally revises earlier thinking on the development of ideas about race in China.

Unknown details

In the past ten years of his career Dikötter's attention turned to China after the Communist victory in 1949. He wrote a trilogy about the Great Leap Forward (Mao’s Great Famine, 2010), the initial years of the People’s Republic (The Tragedy of Liberation, 2013) and, very recently, the Cultural Revolution (The Cultural Revolution, 2016). Dikötter's recent books present many important insights and contain numerous previously unknown details. In these books he condemns both the regime and Mao Zedong personally and exposes the many abuses that took place under this rule. As noted by the New York Times: ‘Drawn from hundreds of English language and Chinese eyewitness accounts, newly available archival records, online Cultural Revolution documentary projects and foreign and Chinese scholarship, the book paints such a damning portrait of Mao and Communist Party governance that if it were widely circulated in China, it could undermine the legitimacy of the current regime.’ The first part of the trilogy, Mao’s Great Famine, won the Samuel Johns Prize for Non-Fiction in 2011, the most prestigious British award for non-fiction.

From Geleen to Hong Kong

Frank Dikötter was born in the Dutch town of Geleen and moved with his parents to Geneva at the age of 12. There he studied history and Russian at the University of Geneva. After graduating he spent two years in the People’s Republic of China and then took off to London to get a doctorate in history at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He then stayed on at SOAS as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and as a Wellcome Research Fellow, and in 2002 he was appointed professor of the Modern History of China. His research was funded by the institutions that include the Wellcome Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and, in Hong Kong, the Research Grants Council and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. Dikötter has been Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong since 2006.