AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 198

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Session 198: Rethinking Chinese Socialist Reconstruction : A Critical Perspective of Literary Representation

Organizer: Zhuo Liu, New York University, China

Discussant: Xudong Zhang, New York University, USA

This panel aims to revisit the initial stage of Chinese socialist building during the late 1940s to early 1950s and contemplate on the question of “reconstruction” from the perspective of literary representation. Our papers look into the concrete situations of “being reconstructed” –peasants, national bourgeois, and petty-bourgeois intellectuals represented in literary works, and recast the question of “socialist reconstruction” as a process of making new political culture. Ping Lei’s paper talks about Chinese national bourgeois in Shanghai after 1949. Her exploration on the “wavering” of bourgeois subjectivity is echoed by Zhu Yu’s theoretical probing into “exemplar” in socialist realism literature. Zhu Yu extends to argue that it—“Material Incentive” versus “Permanent Revolution”--is an inherent contradiction in the formation of revolutionary subjectivity and by no means unique of Chinese national bourgeois class. Zhuo Liu and Max Bohnenkamp’s papers constitute a consecutive observation on the mental transformation of revolutionary peasants before 1949 and after. By concentrating on folk songs and peasant voices, they complicate the relationship between the CCP and peasants as ruled and being ruled, and examine how the traditional values in rural China have been effectively appropriated in the edifying a new socialist culture. Zhu Kang’s paper touches on the theme of urban petty –bourgeois intellectuals, their passion for socialist revolutionary ideal and disillusion after 1949 and before anti-right movement. He inquiries into another aspect of socialist reconstruction project--its romantic impulse of totality.

Becoming “Remoulded”: Zhou Erfu’s “Morning in Shanghai” and Limits of Socialist Transformation of Bourgeois Subjectivity in Early 1950s Shanghai
Lei Ping, New School University, USA

Through revisiting Zhou Erfu’s socialist realist novel Morning in Shanghai, this paper seeks to unveil the historical myth of socialist transformation of the Shanghai national bourgeoisie—what Mao calls “defeated but not destroyed” class, by examining the historical legality and completeness of socialist remoulding of Shanghai bourgeois industry and commerce (1949-1956) during the primary stage of China’s socialist state-building and peaceful transition. For this purpose, it is central to study the residual old historical subjectivity vis-à-vis the new social formation. This paper argues that although the above-mentioned socialist transformation reaches its claimed historical completeness at the level of the socio-political; in Zhou’s literary text, eradicating old bourgeois class-consciousness remains an incomplete cultural-ideological project during the socialization process of capital in Shanghai. From this angle, this paper tackles with the way in which the novel understands both the “bourgeois remoulded” and the “socialist remoulder” from their respective standpoints and represents the still-existent power of bourgeois form of life in the early 1950s Shanghai. Rather than speaking solely from the victorious experience of the new subjectivity overcoming a bourgeois-colonial past, this paper intends to disclose the literary narrative of “wavering” bourgeois subjectivity by foregrounding Shanghai national bourgeoisie’s ambivalent political stance and class consciousness. The final analysis of the novel points to Shanghai national bougeoisie’s tortuous but necessary path to political disenchantment and reaffirmation of their class loyalty by showing the possibility and impossibility of the old reconciling with and resisting to the new in the context of early socialist Shanghai.

“Material Incentive” and “Permanent Revolution”: The Dialectics of Formation of New Sensorium in Hao Ran’s Novel
Yu Zhu, Independent Scholar, People's Republic of China

Marx once revealed the historicity of human sensorium. Then, the crux of Chinese Socialist Aesthetics was to form the new sensorium basing on socialist practice, which was the fundamentally moment of realization of “New Man”. Concerning the criticism of “Bourgeois Right” and Yao Wenyuan’s engagement in the debate on “aesthetics” to argue for “the beauty of communist new man” since 1958, this political intensity of aesthetics was typically showed in Hao Ran’s novel on agricultural cooperation. The yearning for “new man” within socialist modernity was entangled with the pursuit of “wealth”. The dialectic procedure of socialist practice was to overcome “material incentive” by reforming the distribution of sense and meaning. Under the imperative of “permanent revolution” which promised a future, “working”, happiness and beauty changed their value directions. Hao Ran’s narrative caught this impulse and shaped it. To some extent, his novel claimed the end of former narrative on cooperation which was entangled with “material incentive”. But the aporia was as follow: the lack of “materials” and relevant experience of body disintegrated the insight of criticism of “material incentive” that pointed to fetishism. It is difficult to dismantle the “natural” connection between “materials” and “humanity” under the logic of global market and economic rationality. Through reading Hao Ran’s Yan Yangtian(Sunny Day) and other novels, we could caught a historical moment to transform humanity and its sensorium, and rethink the meaning of “materialism” in the context of Chinese revolution.

Singing out “New China”—An Examination of Fanshen Folk Songs in Land Reform Period (1946-1950)
Zhuo Liu, New York University, China

This paper focuses on the creation and collection of fanshen folk songs in the land reform movement during the Chinese civil war period (1946-1950). That folk songs had been largely advocated in the 1940s by the Chinese Communist Party is in order to facilitate the rural mobilization in wartime. My examination is concentrated on the “newness” of fanshen folk songs. By looking into the process of fanshen folk songs composition, I argue that peasants play an active and important role in creating and circulating, which has been inadequately addressed. New peasant poets are not passively being instilled revolutionary contents as propaganda argument insists. They are encouraged and educated to vocalize their own understanding and ideas. It is this very act of participating in literary creation through singing instead of writing demarcates the cultural fanshen of peasants, and provides the basis for making a new socialist culture. Secondly, I proceed to argue that the “folk form” in fanshen folk songs, which has been considered as an old form with new revolutionary ideas, becomes the origin of new national form. Through analyzing the lyric of fanshen folk songs, this paper explores how the traditional communal ideas of equality and family/state have been assimilated into the socialist discourse of democracy and class revolution. The lyric form of fanshen folk songs lies in the joint point, and provides an effective communication between peasant’s world and the Chinese Communist Party, and an appropriate expression of New China.

“Discovering” Oral Traditions of Anti-Imperialism: The collection and editing of Tales of Peasant Rebellion in the P.R.China
Max L. Bohnenkamp, Harvard University, USA

This paper focuses on the collection, editing, and publication of folk tales about late-Imperial peasant rebellions that peaked in the People’s Republic of China in the late 1950s and early 1960s, examining how the discourses and practices of folklore studies were adapted to represent history as one of the sources of the Chinese revolution. Although folkloristic investigations of such material began in the early 1950s, the publication of folktales about peasant rebellions reached a climax when they began receiving increased attention among folklorists at the end of the decade and into the next, as China launched the Great Leap Forward and embarked upon the Socialist Education Movement. This essay asks how such attention might have contributed to an image of national identification in the figure of the historical anti-imperialist peasant rebel, personifying the revolutionary reputation of “Mao Zedong Thought” as it was posed in an increasingly codified way at the height of the “Sino-Soviet Split” and the Cold War. As a case study, I investigate the career of one collector of folktales, Zhang Shijie, who published many collections of legends of the Boxer Rebellion and whose writings show how the “scriptural economy” of folklore studies produced the authenticity of the revolution through the literary adaptation of oral legends. Indeed, questions about the role of folkloristic transcription and the editing of oral texts were debated among Chinese folklorists at the time, providing a window into the problem of how ideology can be understood to shape the political consequences of literary representation.

The Making of “Totality” of Socialist Life and Its Destruction –Reading Wang Meng’s Season of Love (Lianai de jijie)
Kang Zhu, Independent Scholar, China

This paper takes Wang Meng’s Season of Love as a case to explore the question of “totality” of socialist life. Season of Love is the first one of Wang Meng’s series reflection revolutionary ideal. The novel focuses a group of urban intellectual youth in the five to six years after 1949 and depicts their attitudes toward love, works and marriage. It takes up a retrospective narrative of recalling 1950s. 1950s, the early stage of P.R. China is recounted as a departure point of narration, but also the ultimate image of socialist revolution. In this sense, “revolution”, “love”, “youth”, “liberation” are interchangeable concepts which have been allegorized in the figures of urban petty-bourgeois. The point is to approximate the idea of “totality” of socialist life which aims to eliminate the barriers between different social fields, between collective and individual, inner thought and practice, sensuous and ideal etc. What distinguishes Wang Meng’s work from other political appraisal is that he displays a series of disagreement and rupture in the romantic picture of socialist life. It redefines “life” as “lives”, instead of one “Life” of totality. The multiple dimensions of socialist “lives” are represented through the perspective of marriage, individual, material respectively. The destruction lies in the separation of “lives” and the “totality” as a revolutionary ideal.