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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Serving the People with Art and Propaganda in Socialist and Post-Socialist China
Great-Leap Forwarding the Great Leap Forward: The Institutional Change of the Propaganda Machines in Socialist China (1957-1960)
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Northwestern University, United States
The Great Leap Forward (GLF) is famous for the proliferation of propaganda materials that promoted and justified the movement’s radical and grandiose goals. Existing research examines the representation of propaganda, but seldom explores how they were produced and circulated. This paper delves into propaganda institutions, namely propaganda departments, party newspapers, and grassroots propagandists, to show how institutional changes led to the creation and spread of the GLF discourse. I argue that the GLF’s political mechanism transformed the party’s propaganda system, driving propaganda workers from top to bottom to participate in a nationwide snowballing competition and consequently create an unprecedented flood of propaganda. In early 1958, the party mobilized journalists and propagandists at different political levels to compete with their counterparts. The competition became more vigorous as the party continuously imposed three kinds of pressures: the political pressure from higher-ups to join and win; the normative pressure from professional periodicals and propaganda department which highlighted the importance of competition and of the creation of a new GLF culture; and the pressure of uncertainty to avoid being labeled as Right-leaning. As a result, when the GLF reached its heyday, journalists had become more feverous and grassroots propagandists had dramatically expanded, and they both helped create and disseminate the GLF cultural materials to urban streets, land fields, and even fishing boats on the river. This paper suggests that the CCP's propaganda relied greatly on the institutional changes of cultural infrastructures, and sheds light on the relationship between state institutions and popular cultural discourse.