Leisure, Hobbies, and the State in Socialist China
2: Labor and Leisure: Chess and Card Playing in Chinese Socialist Literature
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Notre Dame, United States
Socialist states building an egalitarian society were determined to eliminate the alienation of labor. In theory, without any alienation or exploitation, socialist individuals would consider work pure enjoyment, and would approach leisure activities as opportunities for productive self-development. In fact, in this socialist utopia, there would be no distinction between working and leisure time. Hobbies, as behavior associated with leisure time and personal interests, were generally viewed as apolitical and incompatible with socialist ideology that places emphasis on collective labor and egalitarianism. Through the lens of chess and card playing, I investigate the role of leisure and hobbies in socialist China. I first examine how people spent their leisure time and how hobbies were politicized under Chinese socialism. I then analyze portrayals of chess and card playing in works of socialist literature such as Zhao Shuli’s “The Rhymes of Li Youcai” (1943), Zhou Libo’s Great Changes in a Mountain Village (1957) and “December Girl” (1958), and Liu Qing’s The Builders (1959). I demonstrate how leisure, pleasure and hobbies are inextricably intertwined with the concept of labor in socialist narratives. I also explore how, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, hobbies and connoisseurship were rediscovered in root-seeking literature such as Lu Wenfu’s “The Gourmet” (1982) and Ah Cheng’s “The King of Chess” (1984). Through analyzing Ah Cheng’s story about a sent-down youth who immerses himself in chess playing, I suggest that hobbies in the novella could serve as a form of cultural resistance to politics.