Red or expert : reforming geographers in Communist China, 1949–1953


*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This article investigates the Sovietization of Chinese geographers during the early People’s Republic of China (PRC) using primary sources and published biographies to examine three career paths: red, expert, and red and expert. The red geographers, led by the veteran Communist Sun Jingzhi, who monopolized the field of economic geography, shifted the orientation of geography from the Western model to the model followed in the Soviet Union. The pre-Communist geographers, under the leadership of Harvard-trained Zhu Kezhen, controlled the field of physical geography, relying on their professional training and technical expertise. These two cliques competed for control of the Chinese Geographical Society, its journal, and the Institute of Geography, whereas the Liverpool-trained Hou Renzhi used both redness and expertise to gain prominence in the field of historical geography. This article contends that the reformation of geographers in Communist China continued beyond the political purge of 1949. The twists and turns in career paths derive from the contested nature of the discipline, the changing contours of the science, and connections with institutional structures, all of which illuminate the imbrication of political allegiance, professional expertise, and personal relationships as the geographical tradition persisted in new forms after reformation. In this sense, this article diversifies a history of geography that is too often centered on Anglo-American experiences, and it furthers our understanding of the professionalization of geography as one that has taken a nonlinear course.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2186-2202
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number9
Early online date7 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

I would like to acknowledge a grant from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (23603418) and the Lam Woo Research Fund (LWI20010) from Lingnan University for financial support.


  • Cold War
  • Communist China
  • geographer
  • history of geography
  • Sovietization


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