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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A shattered mirror : the literature of the Cultural Revolution King, Richard


The literature of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) is examined by considering the divergent responsibilites of the author in contemporary China to "society" and "self." Responsibility to "society" is a matter of presenting in a favourable light the progress of the Chinese nation in the socialist society of the People's Republic; concentration on the "self" involves both concern for the individual and accurate representation of life as it is observed by the author. Writing for "society" and "self" need not be in conflict, if the realities recorded by authors reflect a sanguine image, and thereby inspire confidence in the course charted by the nation's leaders. In practice, however, the balance has proved hard to maintain. The tendency has been for Communist Party leaders to mistrust as potentially subversive the literature of the "self" and demand predominantly "social" works that will boost the Party's prestige (and their own) among the readership. The literature of the Cultural Revolution represents the culmination of a directed tendency towards towards the "social" already evident in the Communist liberated areas in the 1940's and restated with increasing vigour after 1949. Insistence on the author's responsibility to "society" led at times to the virtual abnegation of the "self," and gave rise to writings in which the "social" orientation is so strong that it often precludes the "self;" they feature fictional conflicts in which normative Party representatives overcome the enemies of socialism and win the love of the populace. The literature of the Cultural Revolution has been largely dismissed in China and the West since 1976. This neglect is unfortunate, both because of the intrinsic interest of the study and because the literature is an illustration of the extremes to which insistence on "social" responsibility can lead. This thesis is an investigation of certain important features of Cultural Revolution literature. In the two opening chapters, the literary policy is examined that led to this emphasis on "social" responsibility. Thereafter (in chapter 3) the Beijing Operas created as literary exemplars in the first half of the Cultural Revolution will be analysed to extrapolate the model that was to serve for all other art. In each of chapters A - 6, a Cultural Revolution novel is examined. One of these is a collaborative effort produced under close Party scrutiny; the other two are by the most celebrated writer of the day, the peasant author Hao Ran. Only in one novel, Hao Ran's The Golden Road, do the concerns of the "self" balance the predominately "social" burden of Cultural Revolution literature, resulting in the best writing of the period; in a later work, the same author is seen to decline into producing factional propaganda. The final chapter reviews two novels with a similar background, the rustication of urban youth, to compare the idealistic images of Cultural Revolution literature with the sombre picture reflected in the "self-oriented writing of the late 1970’s.

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