Asia Institute, University of Melbourne
It is a commonly-held view that Chinese civilization is vitally concerned with history. For much of the imperial period, intellectuals in China often looked to the Western Zhou dynasty for exemplary models of statecraft and social relations, while in more recent times the party-state has been active in the production of legitimizing historical narratives. In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping’s policy of replacing the principle of class struggle with leadership by experts created a class of post-Mao zhishifenzi who, after the class was disestablished after 1989, began to produce narratives within literature and film which located recent history as the origin of a contemporary moral crisis. These fictional histories convey a class view of the emphatic lessons of history unavailable elsewhere. In this presentation, I observe that fictional history identifies a perennial tendency in Chinese culture towards categorization and exclusion which only superficially differs in its objects and scope from time to time. I argue that in identifying this tendency, post-Mao zhishifenzi express a profound pessimism towards prospects for the future success of the state’s program of social harmony and unity.
Richard Lee is an assistant lecturer and tutor in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. He has recently completed a doctoral dissertation entitled An Inconsolable Cry: Yu Hua, Fictional History and China’s post-Mao zhishifenzi.