Maoist Aesthetics in Western Left-Wing Thought

By Zeng, Jun; Duan, Siying | CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Maoist Aesthetics in Western Left-Wing Thought


Zeng, Jun, Duan, Siying, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture


The twentieth century witnessed the divergence and proliferation of various kinds of Marxisms. Among them, Chinese Marxist aesthetics originated from Soviet-style Marxism and then evolved into a distinctive mode of thinking, which in turn influenced the Western Left in the 1960s. Maoist Aesthetics, the aesthetic dimension of Western Maoism, is not a mirror image of Mao Zedong's ([phrase omitted]) thinking on literature and arts, but an integral part of Western Maoism. Since the problem of Western Marxism vis-a-vis "true" Marxism has remained unresolved in China for decades, Mao's thinking on literature and arts and (Western) Maoist aesthetics have been viewed as unrelated and even opposed to each other in China. After the Reform and Opening-Up (1978 onwards), Maoist aesthetics returned to China as a brand of Western Marxism and Critical Theory. Now both Mao's thinking on literature and arts and Maoist aesthetics find their places in China, though they are incompatible with each other. What I intend to do in this paper, therefore, is begin a "cognitive mapping," as it were, of Western Maoist aesthetics embedded in Western Marxism. Since Mao's thinking is the shared theoretical root of both Mao's thinking on literature and arts and Maoist aesthetics, I hope to find new ways for a productive conversation between these two strains of thought by moving beyond the dichotomies of Western Marxism/"true" Marxism, (Chinese) Mao Zedong Thought/(Western) Maoism.

Maoist aesthetics, as the aesthetic dimension of Western Maoism, is not necessarily irrelevant to the study of Mao's thinking on literature and arts, since both take Mao's thinking as their theoretical resource. Hence by focusing on Mao Zedong, the "contemporaneity" of Mao's thinking on literature and arts (as part of Chinese Marxist aesthetics) and Maoist aesthetics (as part of Western Marxist aesthetics) can be seen as the connection between these two areas of study. In spite of the cultural differences between East and West, or the ideological distinction between socialism and capitalism, both Chinese Marxist aesthetics and Western Marxist aesthetics actively engaged in and offered constructive solutions to the recovery and reconstruction of political, economic, military, social, and cultural orders after World War II. This "contemporaneity" provided a solid foundation for Western Marxists to actively embrace Mao's thinking coming from the East, to get inspiration from the Chinese socialist revolution, and to start a remote dialogue with Chinese Mao Zedong Thought and Chinese revolution, as their Western Contemporaries.

From the perspective of the International Communist Movement, Western Marxists have already retreated from the battlefield of "social revolution" into the study room of "revolution on paper." China became the forerunner of political and socialist revolution after its initial appearance in Europe and Russian-Soviet Union. From the perspective of Chinese Mao Zedong Thought, Western Maoism is nothing but an imagination of Mao's thinking taken out of the context. Since the 1950s, most Western Maoist thought has been criticized as "bourgeoisie literary and artistic theories" in China. From the Western Marxists' point of view, Maoism has only a limited impact on Left-wing thought in Europe and the U.S. Meanwhile, the international diffusion of Maoism was mainly focused on Asian, African and Latin American areas rather than developed countries in Europe and North America. This is why Chinese Marxist aesthetics and Western Marxist aesthetics have failed to start a conversion despite their longstanding coexistence.

For a long time, the Chinese study of Mao's thinking on literature and arts has mainly been carried out within the academic circle of Chinese Marxist aesthetics and literary and artistic theory. The core research goal is to build a systematic theory of Mao's thinking on literature and arts by distilling it from diverse resources. …

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