Breaking Through: Literature and Arts in China, 1997-1986

Bonnie S. McDougall


One of the most notable features of the fifties and sixties in China was the public willingness of the literary and art world to submit to the dictates of the political leadership. The reasons for their cooperation, heavily qualified though it might have been, and the various methods by which the authorities ensured it, have been described elsewhere and are not the topic of this paper.' What I am interested in here is the way in which this cooperation was undermined in the seventies and openly flouted in the eighties. Instead of submission, a sigruficant number of people in literature and the arts offered challenges both within the system and outside it, ranging from flagrant rejection of accepted conventions to a more cautious testing of the limits of tolerance, and from demands for professional autonomy to private arrangements outside existing organisations. The limit-setters and upholders - that is, the overlapping groups of orthodox Party leaders, the entrenched cultural bureaucracy, and writers and artists claiming positions of authority - found
themselves restricted in their response to these challenges by the post-Mao modemisation program. The reform faction in the new leadership, acknowledging a complex relationship between the superstructure and the economic basis, found themselves to a certain extent obliged to yield ground, supporting the challengers and restraining the orthodox. The more detached of the Party intellectuals might also have noticed how, with a keen grasp of Marxist imperatives, the new activists began by establishing their own means of production and distribution.

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Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies
ISSN (print): 1395-4199, ISSN (online): 2246-2163

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