Toward a Maoist Dream of the Red Chamber: Or, How Baoyu and Daiyu Became Rebels Against Feudalism

In: Journal of Chinese Humanities

Mao Zedong’s views on literature were enigmatic: although he coerced writers into “learning the language of the masses,” he made no secret of his own enthusiasm for Dream of the Red Chamber, a novel written during the Qing dynasty. In 1954 this paradox appeared to be resolved when Li Xifan and Lan Ling presented an interpretation that saw the tragic love story as a manifestation of class struggle. Ever since, the conception of Baoyu and Daiyu as class warriors has become a powerful and unquestioned cliché of Chinese literary criticism. Endowing aristocratic protagonists with revolutionary grandeur, however, violates a basic principle of Marxist orthodoxy. This article examines the reasons behind this position: on the one hand, Mao’s support for Li and Lan’s approach acts as a reminder of his early journalistic agitation against arranged marriage and the social ills it engenders. On the other hand, it offers evidence of Mao’s increasingly ambiguous conception of class.

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  • 1

    Merle Goldman, “The Political Role of Literature and the Intellectuals,” in The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward, ed. Roderick MacFarquhar et al. (Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press, 1989), 40.

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  • 2

    Quoted in Ng Yong-sang, “The Poetry of Mao Tse-tung,” in Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution, ed. Gregor Benton (London: Routledge, 2007), 1: 360.

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  • 3

    Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), 3: 72.

  • 4

    Cf. ibid., 76.

  • 12

    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx Friedrich Engels Collected Works (New York: International, 1976), 6: 494.

  • 14

    Cf. Sun, Red-ology: 1954, 24-26.

  • 16

    Cf. Sun, Red-ology: 1954, 84.

  • 19

    Ibid., 193.

  • 20

    Ibid., 197.

  • 23

    Cf. ibid., 16 and 121.

  • 24

    Ibid., 268.

  • 25

    Vladimir I. Lenin, On Literature and Art (Moscow: Progress, 1967), 32.

  • 26

    Ibid., 52.

  • 31

    Cao, Story of the Stone, 4: 326.

  • 35

    Cf. Roxane Witke, “Mao Tse-tung, Women and Suicide in the May Fourth Era,” in Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution, ed. Gregor Benton (London: Routledge, 2008), 3: 5-9.

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  • 37

    Ibid., 391-92.

  • 38

    Ibid., 396.

  • 41

    Mao, Selected Works, 3: 76.

  • 42

    After 1950, the musical was also adapted to film, ballet and Beijing opera. Cf. Zhang Xiaofang 張小芳, “Geju de muhou gushi 歌劇《白毛女》的幕後故事 [Behind the Scenes of the Opera The White-Haired Girl],” Fujian dangshi yuekan 福建黨史月刊 [Fujian Journal of Party History], 3 (2016): 44-47.

  • 46

    Cf. Stuart R. Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung (London: Pall Mall Press, 1963), 43.

  • 48

    Francis Y. K. Soo, Mao Tse-tung’s Theory of Dialectics (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1981), 46.

  • 55

    Soo, Mao Tse-tung’s Theory, 114.

  • 57

    Cf. Schram, The Political Thought, 45.

  • 62

    Zhou Ruchang, Hong lou meng xin zheng (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2003), 1: ii-iii.

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