How should we understand the relationship between literature and politics of the Mao era? To date, research on this question have been driven by the Party catch-phrase of “literature and art serve politics” 文藝為政治服務 and the underlying assumption that politics and literature are two separable entities. But what happens when the two fields merge? This paper will approach this question through the case study of the Hundred Flowers, Rectification, and Anti-Rightist Campaigns of 1956–58. Tracing various literary tropes through Mao’s speeches, into newspapers of the Party and the Democratic League, poetry journals, big character posters, and down to text scribbled on cigarette packets, it will suggest that these campaigns were not only a political struggle, but also a battle over literary and rhetorical language. The struggle for the power to play with language had profound consequences for the future of writing and speaking in the People’s Republic of China. In particular, there were clear historical aftershocks in the understudied Poetry Campaign of 1958 and the uncontested hyperbole of the Great Leap.
About the Speaker
Dayton Lekner is a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne. His research explores the relationship between literature and politics in China, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s.
After the Seminar