Mapping a Local/Global Socialist Lifestyle: Practice and Perception of Life in Maoist China

Title: 1038 | Mapping a Local/Global Socialist Lifestyle: Practice and Perception of Life in Maoist China
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Shaofan An, University of Macau, Macau (organizer, presenter)
Xiaoming Zhu, Renmin University of China, China (chair, discussant)
Yifan Shi, Simon Fraser University, Canada (presenter)
Yiyang Wu, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Megan M. Ferry, Union College, United States (presenter)


This panel examines the diversity and complexity of China’s Maoism as both a practice and perception, especially in its role of shaping a socialist life in both local and global contexts. The individual papers demonstrate that the nature and characteristics of a socialist life in practice and in perception are multiple. Shi examines how urban youth reacted to the attempts to collectivize their leisure time as a form of socialist discipline. An explores how urban intellectuals, who already thought they were participants in socialist reform through their writings, had to adjust their thinking once they found themselves in the rural context of revolution and lived physically among the proletariat. Urban intellectuals’ way of thinking was reshaped in line with the broad masses of peasant-worker class. Wu demonstrates the conflictual process of turning a popular, competitive, and individual sport into a bodily discipline and expression of egalitarian socialist norms among urbanites. It not only served to promote hygiene and physical exercise, but also sportsmanship and gender equality. Ferry illustrates how social liberation and equality espoused by Chinese socialism caught the imagination of Latin American visitors to China, especially in how they found a sense of place in Maoist ideology, and imagined its global applicability across cultural differences. By uniting urban, socialist cultural experiences with global Maoism, this panel asks us to consider how everyday life required inhabiting in both mind and body the local and global spaces of Chinese socialism.

Panel Abstracts:
Embracing the Proletariat: The Transformation of Intellectuals’ Way of Life through Land Reform in Beijing Suburbs, 1949-1950
One of the latest breakthroughs of studies on the Chinese Communist Party’s rural revolution has uncovered that land reform was not only a campaign about land redistribution or peasants struggling against landlords, but also a transformation of urban intellectuals. This paper examines the mentalities and motivations of intellectuals in the early years of the communist takeover of Beijing, especially during their first encounter with CCP’s revolutionary ideology and practice in 1949 and 1950. Initiated by the famous artist Xu Beihong who proactively request to participate in the land reform in Beijing suburbs, the new Communist regime immediately allowed it and encouraged these Beijing intellectuals to publish their experiences on various newspapers. From the initial hesitation and guilty about work team cadres’ harsh treatments toward landlords, most intellectuals gradually overcome or were encouraged to cut off with the “old self” and reborn to be new intellectuals who had the clear class stand with the peasant-worker class. Even though many university professors and students truly believed that they were already a part of the proletariat through personally engaging in and learning from the great rural revolution in suburban Beijing, they were still of the suspicion from the party-state because of their “petty bourgeois” nature. This paper would argue that by passing the test of land reform (guo tugaiguan), most Beijing intellectuals found a fictional belonging to the new state, but the formation and institutionalization of dispatching intellectuals to nationwide land reform sites suggested that the Party never stopped its distrust on them.

Living in a Right Way: The Communist Takeover of Leisure Time in Beijing, 1949-1956
This paper examines the collectivization of private time in Beijing in the early 1950s. Following the Communist takeover of Beijing in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party started to provide public cultural goods to the youth by organizing collective leisure activities mostly on weekends and holidays. Starting from 1953, the Party and the Youth League took a more interfering approach when they held collective leisure activities more often on an everyday basis in clubs and similar venues after the Party realized that leisure was a field for Communist education in the sense that many young people were lured into “degenerate” lifestyles. Although the Party expected the youth to live in a planned and regular way, discontents sprang up in 1956 when young people found they could not master their leisure time because obligatory activities such as Party and Youth League meetings took up too much leisure time, and many work units forced people to attend organized leisure activities collectively. In view of mounting grievances, the Party decided to “let people plan their time freely” by reducing unnecessary meetings in leisure time, allowing people to attend leisure activities voluntarily, and letting the Party committees make overall leisure arrangements in local work units. This paper concludes that instead of asking political power to withdraw from private sphere, young people invited the regime to make more sensible arrangements for their leisure time, which led to the forge of a socialist way of life: doing right things at right places in right time.

From Urban Leisure to "National Game": The Domestic Politics of Table Tennis in Maoist China, 1949-1976
Table tennis is known to all as the “national game” of PRC. Chinese had achieved outstanding international performance on table tennis since late 1950s and therefore, it was officially promoted to be one of the most popular and common everyday sports for the masses in Mao years. But table tennis was not just a means to showing national strength. Based on Shanghai, the most important site of table tennis during Mao years, this study will demonstrate how the “national game” supported a new wave of mass education on ordinary urbanites under Maoism. First, this study will analyze how table tennis was specifically used by Beijing to restore its political legitimacy domestically during the late 1950s to early 1960s when the PRC which was going through a hard time, and also to support the further politicization leading to the cultural revolution. Second, aside from high politics, table tennis was also utilized to formulate people’s notions of physical exercise, hygiene, leisure, sportsmanship, equality of the sexes consistent with the “socialist lifestyle”. At the same time, many thousands of ordinary urbanites began form everyday understandings of what table tennis meant to them and struggled to define it between the object of national and Maoist pride, and their daily hobby and entertainment. The bodily discipline and socialist norms were also constantly challenged in the “national game” which was competitive, victory-driven and individualistic.

Global Citizen Mobility Across the Geo- and Metaphysical Symbolic: A Report on Latin Americans in Maoist China
This paper maps Latin American journalists, poets, writers, and artists’ relations with Maoist China in order to consider the mutual negotiation of local and global visions of modern development. In general, Chinese socialism was attractive to Latin American’s peasants, first generation urbanites, and indigenous populations. Those lucky enough to be able to travel to China in the 1950s and 1960s often returned to publish their experiences. Peruvian journalists wrote of smiling Chinese women and modern machinery, Chilean poets wrote odes to land reform, Mexican writers saw in the Chinese landscape an earthly paradise that looked remarkably just like Michoacan. An Afro-Colombian writer found solidarity among his Chinese comrades shortly before his trip to the racially segregated US. Maoist China, then, was an attractive ideological destination for those who sought to counter effects of US dominance in the region and political conservatism, and for those who wanted to imagine a different social landscape at home and the world. A Chinese brand of socialism promised a liberation that existing models could not offer. This paper examines the writings of several Latin Americans’ visits to China, arguing that they reveal much about viable choices for a humane life. Just how development expresses itself on the humanistic plane (ie., not technical or economic), requires greater scholarly attention. Central to this paper’s inquiry is the notion of modern development as a pillar of our modern cultural foundation

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 02 - Room 7

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