AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 706

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Session 706: The Socialist Production of Space: Cities, Farms, Forests, and People in Post-1949 Chinese Literature and Film

Organizer: Xiaojue Wang, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA

Chair: Robin Visser, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

Discussant: Robin Visser, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

The panel addresses how the production of new social spaces, communities, and urban and rural landscapes during early Chinese socialist reconstruction is conceived and imagined in literary and filmic texts. Panelists discuss important works of literature and film on early socialist urban and landscape transformation and examine how ideological hegemony of the fledgling socialist state is projected onto the spatial reconfigurations of urban locales, the building of ethnic social spaces, and the management of farms, forests, and wilderness, and how the formation of new social relations, the construction of socialist new citizens, and the production of new socialist spaces are tightly intricated. Weijie Song discusses the literary, theatrical, and cinematic representations of the reconstruction of Longxu gou (Dragon Beard Ditch) and its role in shaping the symbolism of Beijing’s locales and the concepts of hygiene and new socialist morality in Maoist urban planning and transformation. Xiaojue Wang considers socialist spatial configuration of everyday life for the working class in Shanghai and its impact on reconceptualizing notions of work and leisure. Haomin Gong looks into the ways in which ethnic social spaces were reframed along the line of class schism rather than ethnic differentiations in early PRC minority film. Scrutinizing the representation of wilderness, farms, and forests, Jiayan Mi examines the political economy and ecology of land and space in the Maoist campaign of “Kaihuang zhongdi” (cultivating wilderness for arable land). The panel seeks to cast a new light on how spatial configuration contributes to and reflects early Chinese socialist ideology.

Dragon Beard Ditch, Ideological Hygiene, and the Production of Socialist Space
Weijie Song, Rutgers University, USA

In the 1950s, the Dragon Beard Ditch (Longxu gou) series, from Lao She’s three-act drama to Jiao Juyin’s theatrical adaptation and Xian Qun’s film production, disclosed an intriguing chronotopic dimension of the great transformation from pre-Mao dystopia to Maoist paradise shaped by socialist urban planning. As a hygienic dead corner and a figurative miniature of the underprivileged ghetto, the old “Dragon Beard Ditch” revealed pre-socialist everyday life of a shabby compound occupied by many households in the east of the Bridge of Heaven, the southern part of Beijing. After Beijing was established as a socialist capital, there launched a campaign to clean the ditch to confront the threat of epidemics and diseases both at the level of public health and of socialist ideological purification. I argue that the literary and cinematic presentations of “Dragon Beard Ditch” offer a salient, distorted, and imaginary example of the production of socialist space by physically and metaphorically transforming an infamous stinking ditch and slum into a new and clean socialist community. The socialist sun shines over the Dragon Beard Ditch where the inhabitants are endowed with new class consciousness and released from the hygienic and political morass. In this way, they are effectively incorporated into the new socialist regime as clean and qualified new citizens. Lao She, Jiao Juyin, and Xian Qun co-produce a socialist space called the new “Dragon Beard Ditch,” which stages a socialist illumination from the present and forges a new chronotope colored by an ideologized utopia and a utopianized ideology.

Housing the Working Class: Spatial Reconfigurations of Everyday Life in Shanghai in Early PRC Literature and Film
Xiaojue Wang, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA

The transformation of Shanghai from the city of Chinese capitalism par excellence into a socialist city is a process first and foremost involving production and reconstruction of its social space and spatiality. This article discusses a group of early PRC literary and cinematic texts set in Shanghai including Zhou Erfu’s Shanghai de zaochen (Morning in Shanghai), Tang Xiaodan’s 1957 film Buye cheng (The City That Never Sleeps), and Lu Ren’s 1959 film Jintian wo xiuxi (It’s My Day Off), to explore the socialist urban imaginations and reconstructions of Shanghai in terms of spatial configurations of everyday life for the socialist working class, and to consider the formation of notions of work and leisure. From alleys to commercial streets, from Suzhou Creek to the Bund, from the city bus, movie theaters, to the “People’s Hotel,” from Shikumen houses, grand villas in former foreign concessions, to the working class’s Residential New Villages in the city’s outskirts, these works situate daily spaces of socialist workers into Shanghai’s metropolitan urban landscape and reconfigure Shanghai as a new socialist industrial bastion and a socialist urban utopia. On the other hand, in their representations of urban space and urban everyday life, these works bear conspicuous influences both from urban comedies of the Republican era and from postwar European New Wave cinemas, which were translated into Chinese in the 1950s in socialist China. The paper also seeks to address how the specters of capitalism haunt and compete with the new socialist city in terms of space and spatiality.

Reframing the Ethnic Space, the Trick of Isomorphism: Producing a Socialist Universalism in Early Socialist China
Haomin Gong, Case Western Reserve University, USA

One important aspect of the all-round socio-spatial reconsolidation in the early socialist period in China was the large scale social transformation implemented in the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. This determinedly class-based transformation, as a part of the socialist state-building project, was inevitably intertwined with ethnic issues. To incorporate ethnic minorities into the newly-founded, Han-based, socialist regime, the Communist Party strategically played down the physical and political center-periphery relationship between Han and ethnic minorities, and instead, framed the latter societies into ones of class confrontations, isomorphic with the former. Thus reframing the social space of ethnic minorities, the Party succeeded in producing a “unified” socialist space in socialist China. Focusing on two films produced in the Seventeen-Year period—Da Ji he tade fuqin/Da Ji and Her Fathers (Wang Jiayi, 1961) and Nongnu/Serfs (Li Jun, 1963), I examine how this displacement of ethnic space by “classed” space is imagined on the silver screen. In both films, the intrusion of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the ethnic area is ideologically construed less as an ethnic invasion than a liberation on class basis. Intensifying class confrontations within ethnic societies, and thus framing the societies solely in terms of class exploitation, these films exhibit an effective cinematic fabrication of a seemingly seamless socialist space. Concealed as nonexistent, if not rendered secondary, ethnic tension is successfully replaced by socialist universalism. This ideological displacement in the early socialist period is still instrumental to our understanding of the ethnic problems emerging in the postsocialist era.

Despoil the Earth: Reconfiguring Political ECOnomy of Kaihuang Zhongdi/ Reclamation in Socialist China
Jiayan Mi, College of New Jersey, USA

This paper investigates the Maoist project “Kaihuang zhongdi” (cultivating wilderness for arable land), a reclamation movement not only reflects the instrumental anthropocentrism and Mao’s agricultural expansionism, but also the blind ideology of Mao’s political economy of land and space. Drawing on theories on landscape, labor and power, the paper examines critical issues of “Kaihuang zhongdi” in a group of “green” movies and one novella: Virgin Territory (Li Wenqi, 2009), The Foliage (Lu Yue, 2004), King of Children (Chen Kaige, 1987), and Ah Cheng’s novella, King of Trees (1984). Wilderness is construed as a space of doubleness, one that is free of social repression for the articulation of romantic passion and sexuality and one that is threateningly monstrous and fearful, a liminal site where humanity and animality are contested. This reclamation movement reflects Mao’s environmental barbarism by violently plundering China’s rain forests and the Great Northern Wilderness for economic exploitation; on the other hand, this brutal denudation of the greened ecosystem creates a reverse rite of passage for the sent-down youth, a journey not into intellectual and spiritual illumination but into a “heart of darkness” of death and bestiality. What is at stake, the paper argues, is not the literal use of the devastating methods for the land but the exercises of power, labor, capital and social justice for the ecological transformation. As a site of contending social power, labor and justice, Kaihuang zhongdi rewrites socialist political economy of land, wilderness and landscape in the reshaping of nationhood and civic ecosystem.