Bearing Witness: Maoism as Religion

David E. Apter


The role of foreign witnesses in describing exceptional historical events can contribute to the way those events unfold. Three examples serve to illustrate this: Edgar Snow, Anna Louise Strong and Agnes Smedley. At the start of the Chinese communist revolution each of these commentators offered personal testimony to and validation of what became a political myth and was elevated to the status of a state political religion with Mao the central figure. This paper discusses the differences between political religion and religion tout court. It suggests that the former is more ephemeral while the latter is more capable of self-replenishment, leading to the ritualization of the first in the exercise of state power. It also deals with the question of socialism as proto-religion and the problems posed by its disappearance.


witnessing; presentism; political religion; testimony; discourse

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Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies
ISSN (print): 1395-4199, ISSN (online): 2246-2163

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