Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

CULTURAL REVOLUTION (WENHUA DA GEMING), FULL NAME: THE GREAT PROLETARIAN CULTURAL REVOLUTION (1966—1976). In the aftermath of his failed economic policies of the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, Mao Zedong was forced to stay on the political sidelines. Unsatisfied with the lost power and uneasy about the “antisocialist” tendencies within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao launched in the mid-1960s an offensive in an attempt to “purify” the CCP and regain control of the state. Mao believed that in a socialist society there always existed class struggle and the possibility of the return of capitalism and imperialism; hence the need for continuous revolutions. Mao’s theory sparked two different interpretations within the party. The moderates perceived class struggle to be in the lower stratums of society where the enemies were those already overthrown: the rich peasants, the counterrevolutionaries, and the bourgeois intellectuals. The radical faction, on the other hand, wanted to extend class struggle to the highest levels of the government and to expose enemies among those still in power—the “capitalist roaders.” In order to eliminate his political opponents, Mao sided with the radical faction during the beginning years of the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards, all young students, were encouraged by the left-wing radicals to bring down government authorities in Beijing and in the provinces, which resulted in serious civil disorder, total collapse of the economy, and massive destruction of cultural institutions.

The aborted coup mounted by Mao’s appointed successor, Lin Biao, in September 1971, eroded the influences of the left-wing radicals and led to the rehabilitation of disgraced former party leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, who was reinstated as a vice premier in April 1973. In 1976, three of the most senior party leaders passed away: Premier Zhou Enlai in January, Zhu De (then chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress) in July, followed by Mao Zedong in September. The country was also visited by an unprecedented natural disaster in that year: an earthquake devastated the city of Tangshan in Hebei Province, confirming the popular Chinese belief that the “mandate of heaven” was withdrawn from the rulers. In less than a month after Mao’s death, the radical Gang of Four, led by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, were arrested, bringing the Cultural Revolution to an end. In 1981, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party officially condemned the Cultural Revolution as a “serious national disaster launched and led by Mao Zedong and exploited by Lin Biao and Jiang Qing and their counterrevolutionary cliques.”

During the Cultural Revolution, literary activities nearly came to a halt, with veteran writers thrown in the labor camps as in the case of Ding Ling, tortured to death as happened to Zhao Shuli, driven to suicide such as Lao She, or in most cases, forced to put down the pen due to the harsh political atmosphere. Very few came out of it unscathed. Those who managed to remain afloat were required to write politically mandated works. The so-called proletarian art in the form of revolutionary model operas, produced under the direct guidance of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, influenced the literary field in a number of ways: works were often created by a group of people and therefore bore no individual authorship; radical ideological themes, particularly class struggle, and larger-than-life heroes such as those portrayed in such novels as Ouyang Hai zhi ge (The Song of Ouyang Hai) and Huanghai hong shao (The Red Sentry of the Yellow Sea) were the only mode of expression. One of the handful of writers who emerged during the Cultural Revolution as standard-bearers of the era was Hao Ran, the most celebrated writer at the time. His novels about class struggle and enlightened peasants in the countryside were widely promoted by the authorities. Jinguang da dao (The Golden Road), Yanyang tian (The Bright Clouds), and Xishao ernü (Sons and Daughters of Xisha) were among the very few novels allowed on the shelves of bookstores.

When the Cultural Revolution ended, the serious damage it had done to the country’s political and cultural institutions and the devastating effects it had on the the Chinese national psyche have been extensively explored in literature, first in the so-called scar literature represented by Liu Xinwu, Lu Xinhua, and others, and later by writers exiled to the Chinese frontier or labor camps, such as Wang Meng and Zhang Xianliang, and most prominently by the large number of educated youths sent to the countryside, such as Ah Cheng, Zhang Chengzhi, Liang Xiaosheng, Han Shaogong, and Wang Xiaobo. See also BEI DAO; CAN XUE; CHEN RUOXI; DENG YOUMEI; FENG JICAI; GAO XIAOSHENG; GAO XINGJIAN; GU CHENG; GU HUA; HE LIWEI; JING FU; KE YUNLU; LAO SHE; LI GUANGTIAN; LIANG XIAOSHENG; LU WENFU; LU XING’ER; MANG KE; SHEN RONG; SHIZHI; SU TONG; TIAN HAN; WANG ANYI; XIAO JUN; YAN GELING; YAN LIANKE; YANG JIANG; YANG LIAN; YE ZHAOYAN; YU HUA; ZHANG JIE; ZHANG KANGKANG; ZHENG YI.