China is one of the world’s oldest standing civilizations to date. Over the course of centuries the country has adapted and changed according to the times, and so has the the nation’s literature. Chinese literature dates all the way back to 21 B. C. E, and during that time period chinese literature centered around confucianism and folklore. Literature took a sporadic toll when Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China came to power. Before the rise of the communist party, China was under the rule of the nationalist Kuomintang government.
The corrupt and inefficient orders of the nationalist party gave access to the communist party to gain popularity amongst the chinese. In the later years to come, the nationalist party and the communist party would face head to head in a civil war in efforts to take control of China. The Long March in October of 1934, consisted of more than 100,000 communist supporters. This march marked the turning point in history in which Mao Zedong officially gained complete command of the Chinese Communist Party.
Forced by the nationalists to evacuate their camps and homes, the CCP took over Yan’an as their communist headquarters for the following ten years. Although the Nationalists outnumbered the Communists in every aspect of war, the nationalists grew susceptible to defeat because of the ongoing war between Japan and China at the time. After the victory of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing was taken over by Mao Zedong and not long after, the city became the capital of the Chinese Communist Party. Under the rule of Mao Zedong literature became more of a controlling factor used to manipulate the young children of China.
Mao Zedong thought education needed to be reformed and as a result many works of literature from the past were banned by the Chinese Communist Party. Any person or persons who opposed the Communist Party were sent off to purge their old customs, culture, literature, and habits. Children were stripped of their books and education, and they became slaves to Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book; Self expression was prohibited and works of literature under Mao Zedong’s rule became propaganda to promote the new Communist Party to the public eye.
Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book was published in 1964 by the People’s Liberation Army. Every person in China was mandated to carry the book around, and children were forced to learn the quotes of Mao Zedong and some even needed to recite the quotes. Education became centered around this little red book and many schools were shut down. Professors were sent off to reeducation camps to cleanse themselves of of their impurity. During the Cultural Revolution, the little red book became a key for survival to millions. Bourgeois would be inspected by the Communist Party by reciting quotes from the book.
Mao Zedong wanted people to fear him and he did so with the use of his book. One of his quotes from the book cited “Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” (The Little Red Book, Zedong). Mao Zedong not only wanted to people to obey him, but he wanted to incite true fear within them. He wanted to do so because he knew that by having the people fear him, he would be able to control them. In order to promote the new communist party to the people of China, Mao Zedong created two campaigns known as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
The first campaign, also referred to as the ‘Great Famine’ was initially designed by the Communist Party with intentions to redesign the country of China from an agrarian economy into a socialist society. The campaign focused on bringing China into a more industrialized society. In attempts to transform rural China into a socialist country, private farming was prohibited and farmers who disobeyed were labeled as counterrevolutionaries and were publicly denounced in mass trials.
This abrupt transformation from private farming to collective farming caused chaos and resulted in a massive number of deaths. The disorganization and waste created by the Great Leap, compounded by natural disasters and and by the termination of the Soviet economic aid, led to widespread famine in which, according to much later official Chinese accounts, millions of people died,” (Schram). Mao Zedong’s attempt to socialize China came too abruptly and many people did not know how to respond. Farmers could not meet their quotas, and as a result millions of people starved to death. Some farmers at the time were so desperate they even ate mud to subdue their hunger.
Others tried to survive off of human flesh and resorted to cannibalism, and lastly some decided to take their own lives and end their own suffering. At the time the chinese were unaware of the impact that Mao Zedong would have and by the time they did they could not escape. In Frank Dikotter’s, Mao’s Great Famine, the author reveals the true horrors of Great Leap Forward stating that“… even as every promise was broken, the party kept on gaining followers. Many were idealists, some were opportunists, others thugs. They displayed astonishing faith and almost fanatical conviction, sometimes even after they themselves had ended up eing devoured by the party machinery (Dikotter).
Incited by fear and deceived by Mao’s propaganda many people could not oppose the Communist Party, and they continued to be loyal to their leader. By the time people started to understand the power of the Communist Party, it was too late for them to turn back around or rather they never even had that option. Initially Mao Zedong used propaganda to gain his followers and grow the Communist Party, and as his following grew he turned to extreme violence and starvation as a “… weapon to punish those who could not keep up with the work routine demanded of them” (Fenby).
Every person was expected to obey by the rules of the Communist Party and those who refused were executed. In Dikotter’s book the author does not simply have a historical overview of one of history’s most horrific mass murderings, but an intensively researched litany of suffering, packed with statistics, grim anecdotes, and self-serving explanations by leaders responsible for the devastation. The destruction brought upon China by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward was not his last attempt to transform the country into a socialist society.
Mao’s next decade long upheaval known as the Cultural Revolution was his attempt to restore unity and fix up loose ties from his previous campaign. After his unsuccessful attempt to transform agrarian China into an industrial nation failed many people started to question Mao Zedong’s intents. Communist party leaders began to pull back on some of Mao’s extreme collectivization efforts in fear of what the leader might incite the second time around. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong mainly targeted young students, who became known as Red Guards.
The groups targeted political enemies with abuse and public humiliation. Mao’s purpose of this campaign was to target the ““Four Olds” — ideas, customs, culture, habits” (Ramzy) of the Chinese people. Mao Zedong wanted to transform the entire society of China and to do so he basically needed to ‘brainwash’ the people. Millions of “… educated young people from the cities were sent to the countryside to work on farms,” (Ramzy) to reform their education and re-establish the new living standards under the communist party.
Education was halted and schools were shut down; children were taken out of school to promote the new communist China and education was no longer a necessary part of their education. The only education that was stressed was Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, which at the time was mandatory to carry around. However, not everybody was compliant to Mao Zedong’s restrictions. During the time young poets, known as the “Misty School” by critics would tell their stories through a seemingly secret language describing their experiences and lives during the Cultural Revolution.
However, at the time public culture was so heavily guarded by the People’s Republic that readers were not sure whether the poets were actual poets or not. These poems did not unravel their true meanings until after the death of Mao Zedong when translations of these poets began to surface around Europe and America. One of the most notable emerging poets during the time of the Cultural Revolution was Yu Jian. Born amidst the rise of the People’s Republic Yu Jian experienced first hand the impact the communist party had on China.
A childhood incident left Yu Jian with impaired hearing, and when the Cultural Revolution blew up in China his parents, who were intellectuals were sent off to a reeducation camp. At that time Yu Jian was twelve years old and his schooling had been interrupted and he was forced to work at a factory. It was there he developed a passion for poetry and literature. After the death of Mao Zedong, Yu Jian returned back to school and started to write his own poetry. One of his works titled “Two or Three Things From the Past” contains lyrics that depict what life may have been like for a child growing up under the control of the Communist Party.
The poem starts of with these lyrics, “So hot then/red trucks loaded with/adults’ burning tongues/forward forward again/disappearing down to the core of/ resolve” Yu Jian is presumably describing the landscape of his neighborhood. Judging by the context the red trucks were most likely the same trucks that Yu Jian’s parents were hauled away on to reeducation camps. Poetry became a big breakthrough during this time period because many people could not verbally voice their opinions they had to resort to literature. However, these types of literature were not published till after the death of Mao Zedong.
Any type of literature that denounced the Communist Party was prohibited under strict surveillance of communist supporters. The years following the Cultural Revolution and most notably Mao Zedong’s death education was predominantly non existent. The effects of the Cultural Revolution caused literacy rates to drop tremendously between the years 1966 to 1968, and these rates did not stop decreasing even after the death of the communist leader. In a study done by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports revealed that, “By 1959 rates among youths and adults (aged 12-40) fell from 80% to 43%.
By 1979 this figure had dropped to 30%, by 1982 to 25%, and by 1988 to 20%, (China Philanthropy). Education and literature has always been a priority to the Chinese, however after the rise of the Communist Party these priorities were stripped away from the people to establish new ways of life under Mao Zedong. Within the span of twenty years Mao Zedong had taken the literature of China and basically thrown it out the window. Although literature in China was severely beaten down, it did not take long before writers began voicing their opinions and experiences to the public eye.