Frank Dikotter

Frank Dikötter  冯客 is an historian and writer. His last book, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, was selected as one of the Books of the Year in 2010 by The Economist, The Independent, the Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard, The Telegraph, the New Statesman and the BBC History Magazine. It won the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, Britain’s most prestigious book award for non-fiction. His work has been featured on the BBC, ABC (Australia), CBC (Canada) and C-SPAN among others. He writes for the Sunday Times and the Literary Review.

He has been Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong since 2006. Before coming to Hong Kong he was Professor of the Modern History of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Born in the Netherlands in 1961, he has spent more than a quarter of a century researching the history of China. He is the author of nine critically acclaimed book, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China (1992) to China before Mao: The Age of Openness (2007). He is a very approachable, gifted speaker who has honed his story-telling skills over many years, using narrative drive and riveting detail to capture very different audiences alike. He is married and lives in Hong Kong.


Mao’s Great Famine

Between 1958 and 1962 China descended into hell. Mao collectivised his country during the Great Leap Forward, causing one of the most deadly mass killings on record: at least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death, up to a third of all housing was turned to rubble while the environment was savaged in the feverish pursuit of steel and other industrial accomplishments. Frank Dikotter is one of a few scholars to have been granted access to previously restricted communist party archives. He uses them to piece together both the vicious machinations in the corridors of power and the everyday experiences of ordinary people. Nobody can understand China today without looking at the catastrophe that remains seared into the memories of those who lived through it, including all of the current leadership.

China’s Opening Up

We often assume that China only “opened up” after Deng Xiaoping kick-started economic reforms in 1978. But the first half of the twentieth century was much more vibrant, innovative and open then we think, as all levels of Chinese society were seeking engagement with the rest of the world. On the other hand, for three decades after the communist victory in 1949, most basic freedoms of speech, movement, association, belief and trade were curtailed by Mao Zedong’s regime. Frank Dikotter shows that the cosmopolitan, dynamic era before the second World War may have more to tell us about modern China’s long-term trajectory than the authoritarian interlude that followed it.

Race in China

Lou Jing is a young girl with a Chinese mother and an African American father. In August 2009 she became a finalist for a talent show in her native Shanghai. Her rise to fame culminated in heated discussions on the Chinese web, as hosts and viewers were baffled by her skin tone, calling her “Black Pearl” and “Chocolate Girl”. Does skin colour matter in China? Is there something equivalent to a racial worldview, and if so where does it come from and what implications does it have for people described as “black” or “white”? Frank Dikotter brings much needed clarity to these issues by looking at a wealth of evidence ranging from the end of the Qing empire to the People’s Republic of China today.


Frank — I want to thank you for a terrific presentation to our group in Oregon. Your conversational delivery combined with a truly comprehensive grasp of facts surrounding Mao’s lamentable reign generated a ton of compliments. Thanks again for making the effort to join us from Hong Kong.”

~ Edward Crane, President, The Cato Institute

“Frank Dikotter spoke to a sell-out session at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent’s Club, stimulating a lively discussion after an extremely thought provoking speech delivered in a thoroughly accessible manner.”

~ Steve Vines, Foreign Correspondent’s Club



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