China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Blooming Flowers, Poisonous Weeds, Wilted Grass: History, Memory and Image from the Anti-Rightist Campaign, 1957-58

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 4, Exhibit Level

As recent histories of the Anti-Rightist Campaign have detailed, a diverse range of acts could lead to the donning of a Rightist cap in 1957 and 1958. One such path to being labelled was to contest the discursive space claimed by Mao and the Party. Fei Xiaotong’s famous essay, “The Early Spring Weather of the Intellectuals,” Liu Shahe’s short set of botanical poems, “Pieces on Plants,” and Xu Zhongnian’s article, “The Crow Cries in the Daytime,” all contested the tropes put forward by Mao of an abundant springtime, a blooming of fragrant flowers, and a sonorous chorus of birdsong. These literary antagonists were dealt with through the mechanism of the Anti-Rightist trials, classification, and sentencing, but what then happened to the images themselves?

This paper explores the echoes of this struggle over the six decades since the campaign to reveal repeated attempts by the Party and survivors of the Anti-Rightist Campaign to retain control of the key imagery of the campaign. I argue that while the Party attempted to re-appropriate the images for their own use as either paean or political weapon, individual survivors and historians of the campaign have attempted to retain them to mourn a lost youth and for ongoing protest. Tracing the use of these images through reform years and into the Xi era, I suggest that as paths to participation in the structures of national historiography remain foreclosed upon, such literary imagery remains powerful for its ability to frame otherwise disparate memoirs and reminiscences.

Dayton Lekner

University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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1 - Blooming Flowers, Poisonous Weeds, Wilted Grass: History, Memory and Image from the Anti-Rightist Campaign, 1957-58



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