Petrochemical Socialism: Chemical Fertilizer and Synthetic Fiber Industry in China (1960 to 1980)


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Predissertation-Summer Travel Grants




This project explores the history of Chinese socialism through the construction and management of the petrochemical industry and its two key products - chemical fertilizers and synthetic fibers - in the Maoist era. The study explores the reasons Maoist China decided to leverage its oil reserves to develop manufacturing rather than to export oil directly for foreign currency. In particular, it examines the meaning of the petrochemical industry in the planned economy system and state-guided development. The building of petrochemical plants also configured the lives of workers and the state’s policy to intellectuals (engineers and managers). The chemical products represented the state's commitment to long-term growth and plain living in a socialist lifestyle.