Literary Celebrities and Media Ecologies in Modern China
2: Emulative Performance and Precarious Fame: The Socialist Literary Model of Zhao Shuli
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of British Columbia, Canada
The peasant writer Zhao Shuli was hailed as “the most famous man in Communist area” next to Mao Zedong in the 1940s and celebrated as a directive model of socialist literature through the 1950s. At the same time, fascinated by street theater, local opera, and folk music, Zhao dedicated himself to practicing and promoting various “arts of talking and singing” (shuochang yishu) in the newly established PRC. What is the relationship between the performing arts and Zhao’s literary model? How does the performative media help us to conceptualize literary celebrity in the socialist era?
Situating the socialist literary model within the shift from reading rooms to performing fields, this essay zooms in on the characters and scenes in Zhao Shuli’s Rhymes of Li Youcai(1942-43), Changes in Li Village (1943) and Sanliwan Village (1955) to demonstrate the impulse for emulative performance within Zhao’s prose fictions, especially the ritualized roles celebrity authorship plays in mediating the collective desire to emulate the socialist hero/model. However, when it comes to the realm of artistic creation, Zhao Shuli is keenly aware of the stakes of the masses’ emulation of literary celebrities (including himself). This essay then reads two of Zhao Shuli’s often neglected short stories “Mutual Evaluations” (1962) and “Selling Tabaco Leaves” (1964) to suggest the precarity of celebrity authorship in the socialist regime of letters where the individual pursuit of literary fame has to be at once endorsed and repudiated.