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Radicalization and the Rise of “Revolutionary Literature" (1925-36) Political Background United Front, or Northern Expedition, of KMT and CCP (1925-27) violent coup in againts CCP in April, 1927 Nanjing Decade (1927-37) and KMT rule Civil War and White Terror rural revolutionary movement

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Political Background (1925-36)

  • United Front, or Northern Expedition, of KMT and CCP (1925-27)

  • violent coup in againts CCP in April, 1927

  • Nanjing Decade (1927-37) and KMT rule

  • Civil War and White Terror

  • rural revolutionary movement

  • Long March (1934-35) and the emergence of Mao Zedong

  • new revolutionary base in Yan’an


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Imperialism and radicalization (1925-36)

  • Western and Japanese Imperialism and the growth of anti-imperialist nationalism

  • May 30th Movement (1925)

  • Mukden Incident (9/18/1931)

  • bombing of Shanghai (1/29/1932)

  • Marco Polo Bridge Incident (7/7/1937) and the beginning of WW II in China


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Other factors (1925-36)

  • the rise of new, politically conscious social force of intellectuals

  • introduction of Marxism (1905-)

  • the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution

  • founding of Marxist Study Groups (1918-21)

  • Founding of the Chinese Communist Party (1921)

Li Dazhao 李大釗 (1888-1927), one of the earliest Chinese interpreters of Marxism


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What is Marxism? (1925-36)

Marx (left) and Engels

  • historical materialism

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (The Communist Manifesto, 1848)


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What is Marxism? (1925-36)

Marx (left) and Engels

  • Economic base/superstructure

  • Ideology as “false consciousness”


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What is Maoism? (1925-36)

The appeal of Marxism in the Chinese context

Mao’s interpretation of Marxism-Leninism emphasizes (1) voluntarism over determinism; (2) permanent revolution; (3) peasant based revolution

Painting of Mao writing in his Yan’an cave


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“From Literary Revolution to Revolutionary Literature:” radicalization of intelligentsia

  • polarized intellectual community: leftists and sympathizers vs. the “reactionaries”

  • questioning ideals of the May Fourth: elitism under scrutiny

  • questioning role and power of writing

  • questioning role of bourgeois intellectuals in the revolution

  • class view of revolution replaces cultural revolution

  • Promotion of Leftist or Revolutionary Literature: concern for the plight of the lower classes; critique of the causes of class oppression; realist in orientation

  • Leftists or their sympathizers are arguably major force in the 1930s and 1940s, yet, they were not the only players on the literary scene


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“The May Fourth-New Culture Movement was a waste of time with regard to the people! May Fourth new classical literature (yang bagu 洋八股) (the so-called vernacular, or baihua, literature) and the early revolutionary and proletarian literature, which clearly arose from the May Fourth foundation, simply provided the Europeanized gentry with yet another sumptuous banquet to satisfy their new tastes while the laboring people were still starving.” (Qu Qiubai, “Questions about Mass Literature and Art,” 1931)

“Revolutionary literature must be an anti-individualist literature, its heroes must be the masses, not individuals; it must be directed not toward individualism, but toward collectivism… The duty of revolutionary literature is to show in this life struggle the power of the masses, to instill into people collective tendencies.” (Jiang Guangci 蒋光慈, “On Revolutionary Literature”)

Qu Qiubai (瞿秋白)


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“About literary composition, I sometimes feel that it would not be at a serious loss if we gave it up entirely. We write, and the people read. Time passes and no influence whatsoever. Then what is the meaning of all this, except that we get paid for it? It is of course possible that some readers are touched by a turn in the plot or by certain passages of writing—but who are these reader? Students of the petty-bourgeois class above the high school level who have just reached adolescence and are subject to melancholy . . . But the consequences, I now understand, are harmful. We do them a great wrong by leading them to the paths that we ourselves have trodden: sentimentalism, individualism, grumblings or sorrows for finding no way out. . . Where is the way out indeed? They will sink deeper and deeper in their moroseness, not see a relation between society and their sufferings. Even if they could improve their language and produce essays and poems that win praise from some old writers, what good, I ask you, is that to them? And what good to society? Therefore, personally, I am willing to give up writing.”

--Ding Ling “Shanghai: Spring, 1930” (1930)

Ding Ling 丁玲


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Radical Literary Groups would not be

  • The Creation Society (创造社): after 1925, moved from radical individualism to radical Marxism.

  • The Sun Society (太阳社): radical Marxist organization promoting revolutionary literature; all members were members of the CCP; attacked Creation Society and their leadership in the revolutionary lit; together with Creation Society attacked Lu Xun and Yusi as living anachronism; first to propagate literature of the working class

  • League of Left-Wing Writers左翼作家联盟(1930-36): promote literature from a Marxist perspective; literature to speak for the proletariat; organized three research societies: Research Society of Marxist Literary and Art Theories; International Culture; Popularization of Literature and Art


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Literary Debates of would not beLate 1920s and Early 30s

  • definition of revolutionary literature and the role of the bourgeois writer in that literature

  • who is to be the audience?

  • by what means (language, literary forms) does one write revolutionary literature?

  • where does the bourgeois artist stand in relation to class and politics?

  • what is the role of literature in an age of imperialist aggression?

  • how do we popularize literature for mass consumption?


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Censorship would not be

  • In the 1930s, the KMT instituted strict censorship against leftist literature and journalism

  • Leftists could circumvent this censorship by living and publishing in foreign concessions

“Censorship” (woodblock print)


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Revolutionary Literature would not be

  • Concern for the plight of the lower classes

  • Critique of causes of class oppression

  • Realist in orientation

  • Move away from the subjectivist tendency of the May Fourth romanticists

“Release” (right), by Feng Zikai; “Prisoner,” (left), by Liu Xian


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Mao Dun would not be茅盾 (1896-1981)

  • pseudonym of Shen Yanbing, born in Tongxiang, Zhejiang

  • attended middle school in Hangzhou and studied in Peking University prep school for two years

  • Got his first job in the English editing and translation sections of the Commercial Press in Shanghai and became well-known author by the age of 21

  • Founding member of the Literary Research Association (1920) and the CCP (1921)

  • Actively involved in social, political and literary activities

  • A cultural bureaucrat after 1949


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Former residence in his hometown would not be

Cover of Midnight, his most famous novel

Teaching literature at Lu Xun Art Institute in Yan’an, 1940

Various versions of Putrefaction (1941)


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Film still, would not beSpring Silkworm, 1933


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