Disturbance during “Going into the Thick of Life”: Studies around Xu Guangyao Diary

In: Frontiers of Literary Studies in China
Cheng Kai Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

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As the key principle in the literary and artistic world of the Mao Zedong era, “going into the thick of life” is far more than a mere approach to discovering material and themes for writing. The path of “going into the thick of life” set upon the premise of “diving deep into work” stems from the two principles established together in Mao Zedong’s “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art” (Zai Yan’an wenyi zuotanhui shang de jianghua) and the rectification movement: reform of revolutionaries and intellectuals through “combination with the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers,” and second, reform of revolutionary politics via the “mass line,” designed to trigger the creativity of the masses. Each of these two principles is the precondition of the other. On the one hand, “going into the thick of life” based on the premise of “diving deep into work” offers the subjective perspective of the revolutionaries deeply involved in the local social reform—their difficulties, frustrations, and necessary self-adjustments when revolutionary ideals and the subjective attitudes towards policies conflicted with the realities of practice. On the other hand, different from official chronicles and local archives, records of their actions and real observations provide us with a sort of experiential perspective from the grass-roots level which appears more rich, complete and vivid, enabling us to view the problems of revolution from the perspective of the social system in operation, on top of the possibility of seeing the society from the subjective stance of revolution. The detailed records of the 1953 cooperative establishment presented in Xu Guangyao riji (Xu Guangyao diary) offers us a fine example of a text about “going into the thick of life.” Despite the failure of his writing plan, all of the harassment and frustrations recorded in the diary possess special epistemological value, offering a clear-cut picture of the friction and interaction between the logic of real-life practice and the logic of action based upon ideology, which constituted the “reality” of revolutionary practice in the Mao era. Meanwhile, it hints as well at the peculiarity and challenges of the requirements set upon literature of realism in the Mao era.

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