Jennifer Altehenger’s research focuses on the history of modern and contemporary China, in particular the history of materials, industrial design and everyday life, the history of law and civic education, and the history of language, information and cultural production.
One of her areas of research is the historical connection between laws, party-state politics, and everyday life in the People’s Republic of China after 1949. Her book Legal Lessons: Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1989 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2018) reconsidered the role of laws in Chinese state socialism. Asking not whether laws were successfully implemented but how they were communicated and to what effect, the book examined China’s history of state-led mass legal education, from the early years of the People’s Republic into the first decade of ‘reform and opening’ after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. It showed that educating the general population in laws has been a crucial, if controversial, component of Chinese Communist Party governance throughout most of the decades after 1949. Laws, in other words, are not marginal but central to understanding Chinese statecraft in the twentieth century.