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Past Event

Virtual Saturday University: Mao's Great Leap Forward in Tian'anmen Square, 1958-59

Apr 24 2021

Seattle Asian Art Museum


10 AM – 11:30 AM

Monumental structures encapsulate poignant events and memorable moments in history. Their construction, demolition, or remodeling often illustrate larger sociopolitical movements. This lecture series, Sites of Memory in Asia: Remembrance and Redemption, presents four case studies in North India, Japan, West India, and China. Each reveals a highly-charged story behind an iconic site, which embodies significant political or religious changes.

Registration confirmation emails include a link to access Zoom webinars. Use this link to register in advance to receive event reminders. This program is currently offered as a $5 suggested donation, to keep it accessible for all. Normally, tickets are $7 for SAM members, $12 for public. Donate today to support museum programming.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward in Tian’anmen Square 1958-59
Tao Zhu, University of Hong Kong

Tian’anmen Square, located in the city center of Beijing, is one of the biggest public spaces in the world and the most significant in China. The square went through a radical transformation between 1958 and 1959. The square renovation project, along with Beijing’s 'Ten Great Buildings built in the same period, was considered as a part of an architectural and urban initiative of Mao Zedong’s 'Great Leap Forward.' This lecture examines how the architects and artists working on the project became embroiled in an ongoing struggle to devise a style that would be suitable for the new socialist regime. It also explores how the project, which consumed enormous resources and labor, was built in 10 months to meet the government’s deadline to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the ‘New China,’ at the very moment that China was experiencing one of its most dire socioeconomic crises.

About the Presenter

Tao Zhu is Associate Professor and Co-director of the Center for Chinese Architecture and Urban Design, The University of Hong Kong. He received his Master of Architecture and PhD in Architecture History and Theory at Columbia University. As a scholar, his research focuses on contemporary Chinese architecture and urbanism. He has published essays in AA Files, AD, a+u, Bauwelt, Domus, and Time + Architecture. His recent writings include the book Liang Sicheng and His Times (Imaginist, 2014), which examines Chinese architectural development in relation to Mao Zedong’s socio-political campaigns of the 1950s, and the chapter “Architecture in China in the Reform Era 1978-2010” for the book A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture 1960-2010 (Ashgate, 2014). As an architect, his practice engages with public projects in various scales, ranging from urban planning, urban design, to architectural and landscape design. He also serves as an advisor for Shenzhen and Dongguan, to assist in the cities’ urbanization process, especially their development of public buildings and spaces.



Creating and Destroying Sacred Spaces in North India


Building Ancient Memory in Modern Kyoto


The Memory of the Ancients in Modern Iranian and Parsi Architecture


Mao’s Great Leap Forward in Tian’anmen Square 1958-59

This lecture series is co-sponsored by the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Presenting Sponsor
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Parade at the Tiananmen square on the National Day, 1958. Copyright Tao Zhu.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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