Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

People's Literature and the Construction of a New Chinese Literary Tradition

Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

People's Literature and the Construction of a New Chinese Literary Tradition

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Communist Party's victory in the civil war and the establishment of the People's Republic of China signaled for many authors and critics triumph in debates over the nature of art and literature that had been raging in China for the previous five decades. With the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) success, techniques for using culture to mold the citizenry, which had been developed in a fragmented manner throughout the first half of the century, would be implemented as a matter of national policy. The struggle over how to represent modern China was ostensibly resolved with the creation of a literary system that would ensure that culture was produced according to socialist ideological standards, but in fact, the method by which to meet those standards was not clear in 1949. In order to write a history of Maoist literary practice one must engage with debates and experiments over both the forms and the content of culture fit to serve citizens living in a modern communist nation. Participants struggled with the proper way to represent the people, and thus tied connection of cultural production to the creation of national subjects. In the 1950s and 60s, the idea of the people would take on new significance as it became the cornerstone for literary production. Far from being well-defined concepts handed down to the intellectuals from the authorities, the image of the people, how to represent them, and those individuals best suited to represent them were constantly being negotiated.

The "people" would become a fundamental concept in the development of literature during the 1950s. Indeed, it was central in almost all aspects of the organization of the country after 1949. The broad impact of this term is seen in its use as a modifier of governmental positions and structures (for example, the Great Hall of the People was where people's representatives gathered to discuss policy), cultural institutions (reflected in the titles of the magazines Renmin wenxue [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [People's Literature, founded in 1949] and Renmin meishu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [People's Art, founded in 1950] among others), and place names (to get to the People's Bank, you might take People's Road past the People's Park). Authors saw as their mission the creation of a body of "people's literature." The Chinese word used here is renmin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a term of central importance to the cultural project of constructing new China. Discourse in the Maoist period ensured a specific referent for renmin, transforming a general term for people used in the late Qing and early Republican periods into a concept signifying a specific group who made up the revolutionary classes and was the basis of Chinese society. (1) The new literary establishment built an entire cultural apparatus centered on a specific idea of the people and their relationship to art and literature, and the process of this creation is mapped out in the journal People's Literature.

In this article I examine the first volume of People's Literature as a case study by which to better understand the dynamic process of creating a literature fit to mold citizens in revolutionary society. By performing a "horizontal reading" of the journal, we arrive at a greater understanding of the cultural field that it both produced and was produced by. (2) Since the country had been separated into three spheres of political influence during the previous decade of warfare, the formation of a cohesive group of literary workers was imperative, and while the standard for creation would be works produced in the Communist base areas, (3) the attempt to draw in all artists and thus unify the cultural field would be of great importance. (4) People's Literature was a tool used in the creation of this new unity, and its pages, especially those of its first volume, show the construction of a new literary system in progress. (5) "People's literature" would encompass literature and culture from all areas of the country, acting as an umbrella term for different forms and genres, such as rural folk literature, urban middle-brow literature, and modern, Marxist popular literature. …

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