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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Reading and Writing Early Socialism in China: Challenges in an Unstable Cultural Field
2: Learning Chairman Mao's Works In Rural Eastern Fujian
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Minnan Normal University, China (People's Republic)
The canonization of Mao Zedong’s works was a key ideological goal of the state from the outset of the PRC. Before the mid 1950s, “Reading Chairman Mao’s Works” movements mostly focused on orthodox interpretations of the philosophy and ideology in the Selected Works of Mao Zedong. Their targeted readership was primarily Party cadres, intellectuals and artists. From the late 1950s to 1960, the state started to extend the “Reading Chairman Mao’s Works” campaign to common workers and peasants nationwide, a movement that reached its climax at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
This paper explores the complex relationship between official political reading campaigns and mundane rural practices from the late 1950s. By analyzing cases in rural eastern Fujian, I argue that Mao’s philosophical works were simplified and vernacularized in these movements in an effort to make the texts more accessible to the largely illiterate peasants. Not only were the more legible chapters the focus, they were taught by adapting the narrative techniques of rural oral culture. In night schools and study classes where Chairman Mao’s Works were formally studied, movement activists used the form of storytelling, or the narrative strategy of suku, to effectively translate Mao’s works into the local vernacular. These strategies successfully aroused the peasants’ political enthusiasm which was the purpose of the movement. At the same time, an unintended consequence was that as peasant literacy advanced, newly emerging rural political elites acquired direct access to the socialist revolutionary discourse themselves.