Self-cultivation of the socialist new person in maoist china: Evidence from a family’s private letters, 1961–1986

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Abstract

The Maoist creed depended upon a large core of devout, dedicated believers who sought in their personal lives to abide by the revolution’s teachings. Based on close reading and careful analysis of 679 private letters from 1961 to 1986, this article explores the self-cultivation of socialist personhood by a politically devout married couple and their close relatives, who shared with one another how they lived and felt. A tension between personal concerns with family life and an ideologically charged commitment to personal political progress are identifiable in many of the letters and provide a key to understanding the rise and fall of political commitment and socialist personhood over the course of two decades. The conjugal letters reveal that within this family the husband strategically chose a discourse of class struggle and the wife a discourse of gender equality, and each utilized politically prescribed language to push for their own agenda within the family. It will be seen how the combination of their concerns with family life, the tensions entailed in the gender discourse, and the rise of materialist concerns in the 1970s eventually contributed by the 1980s to their abandonment of communist ideology and self-cultivation.

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Tian, L., & Yan, Y. (2019). Self-cultivation of the socialist new person in maoist china: Evidence from a family’s private letters, 1961–1986. China Journal, 82(1), 88–110. https://doi.org/10.1086/703196

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