Cultural Revolution in Time: Diaries and the Making of Socialist Subjects, 1966-1969

Shan Windscript

University Of Melbourne

Recent scholarship on the workings of human agency in Mao-era China has drawn attention to the incompleteness of power, where the individual fulfilled its selfhood through acts of circumvention and resistance (Lüdtke, 2016). This paper complicates existing literature by examining the interplay between subjectivity and ideology in unpublished personal diaries produced at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Approaching journal-keeping as a means of self-construction within time (Hellbeck, 2006; Sherman, 1996), I explore how diarists articulated a revolutionary self-consciousness through engagement with the Maoist “regime of historicity” (Hartog, 2003; 2016). A close reading of the dairies’ narrative composition reveals an active politicization of everyday life, through which the authors constructed themselves as actors of historical change. They embraced the radical “rupture in continuity” ushered in by the Cultural Revolution, writing their lives into Maoist socialist modernity by appropriating official time and history as narrative structures. In doing so, they composed their lives as part of an imagined trans/national collectivity bound by commitments to a sinified proletarian future. Yet this effort was also imbued with tensions and contradiction, highlighting the complex nexus between ideology and individual capacities in generating unintended possibilities of popular subjectivation at the grassroots.


Shan Windscript is a final-stage Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Melbourne. Her research examines unpublished personal diaries written by ordinary Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution and, more specifically, how everyday writing shaped the construction of revolutionary selfhood within and beyond state ideology.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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