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Prof. Frank Dikötter
Professor Frank DikötterChair Professor of Humanities


BA, MA Geneva; PhD Lond; FRHistS


Phone No. Email Address HKU Scholars Hub

Office: 10.39



Research Projects | Publications | Courses | RPG Supervisions


Professor Frank Dikötter was Distinguished Visiting Professor for the Academic Year 2004-5. In 2006, he was appointed to the new position of Chair of Humanities in the Faculty of Arts. Before moving to Hong Kong, he was Professor of the Modern History of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has published a dozen books and over 65 refereed articles and chapters in books that have changed the way we look at the history of modern China. He has raised more than HKD15 million for pure research and has over 4,300 citations on Google Scholar. His Mao's Great Famine won the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2011. He is also Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and holds an honorary doctorate from Leiden University.




Current Research Projects


The Making of the Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century


Image and power have always been closely related, but in the twentieth century a new phenomenon appeared that went well beyond the public veneration of influential individuals, namely the cult of personality. In an age of democracy, when power was no longer seen to be a divine attribute but was vested in the people instead, the cult of personality was used by one-party states to achieve the illusion of popular approval without ever having to resort to elections. By closely studying the cult of personality built around eight leaders, the project adopts a comparative approach: dictators did not exist in a vacuum, they learned from each other. Mao was a keen student of Stalin, while Hitler closely observed Mussolini. Dictators visited each other, spoke to each other, corresponded with each other, and often sent large delegations to study all aspects of government, including the cult of personality and propaganda more generally. Personality cults, of course, changed over time, and not only as a result of new technologies such as radio and television. Some of the most momentous changes in international politics are related to the cult of personality, in particular Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956, which set off a chain reaction among allies in the socialist camp. Paradoxically, the Sino-Soviet rift encouraged the spread of personality cults in China and North Korea. As the initiative shifted to Asia, leaders such as Ceausescu and Mengistu visited Pyongyang instead of Moscow to learn the ropes.






The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976

The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976
Volume Three of the People's Trilogy

"Magnificent... This brilliant book leaves no doubt that Mao almost ruined China and left a legacy of paranoia that still grips its modern dictatorship under the latest autocrat, Xi Jinping."

- Sunday Times


"A major contribution to scholarship on modern China, one that is unequalled, certainly in the English language ... both revealing and rewarding reading - for specialists and non-specialists alike."

- Literary Review


The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957
Volume Two of the People's Trilogy

"A remarkable work of archival research. Dikötter rarely, if ever, allows the story of central government to dominate by merely reporting a top-down directive. Instead, he tracks down the grassroots impact of Communist policies - on farmers, factory workers, industrialists, students, monks - by mining archives and libraries for reports, surveys, speeches and memoirs… Dikötter sustains a strong human dimension to the story by skillfully weaving individual voices through the length of the book."

-Financial Times


"The historian of China Frank Dikötter has taken a sledgehammer to demolish perhaps the last remaining shibboleth of modern Chinese history ... What emerges from the archives with new clarity is just how ruinous Mao's policies were."

- Spectator


The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957

The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976

Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962
Volume One of the People's Trilogy

"Frank Dikötter's thoroughly researched book will help ensure that the country's present-day insecurities do not allow this dark past to be forgotten entirely… His findings are astounding… Mao's Great Famine makes for very grim reading in parts. But the sheer volume of previously hidden facts allows a much clearer and more damning picture to emerge, making a critical contribution to Chinese history."


- Wall Street Journal


Learn more



Teaching and Courses Taught


  • HIST2090 The Great Famine (1959-61)

  • HIST2097 Mao

  • HIST2146 The Cultural Revolution, 1966-76

  • HIST6011 Introduction to History Thesis Writing




Research Postgraduate Supervisions


Prof. Dikötter has supervised Research Postgraduates in the following areas:


  • Modern history of China
Latest Publication
The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976Book
How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century

Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication Date:
12.2019 (hardcover)