China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Fate of the Intellectuals: Biography as Critique of the Anti-Rightist Campaign

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

In its 1981 “Resolution on historical questions,” the Chinese Communist Party upheld the Anti-Rightist Campaign as inevitable and necessary, contending that it had merely “got out of hand” (kuodahua) in its later stages. In the years since, Chinese authors have adopted diverse styles of writing to circumvent and challenge this assumed orthodoxy, without necessarily negating the formal Party line on the Anti-Rightist Campaign as “history.”

This paper considers biographical writing about intellectuals as such an indirect means of challenging orthodoxy, by contrasting recent scholarship on three prominent victims of the Campaign: the journalist Chu Anping, the economist Gu Zhun, and Chen Yinque, an historian. It describes recurring aesthetic tropes in intellectual biography, such as “independent personality” (duli renge) and “intellectual spirit” (zhishifenzi jingshen), and considers how these vest history with a moral and pedagogical impulse.

The idea that history should provide moral exemplars of intellectual integrity is not new to the Chinese tradition, which has witnessed constant friction between the literati and authoritarian rulers for some two thousand years. However, detailed information on the lives of these figures is scant, and problems arise when we attempt broader histories — on topics such as liberalism, minor party politics and changes in academic life — from the perspective of their individual lives. This paper explores these problems, which are at once theoretical, in that they concern the complex relationship between biography and history, and ideological, as the hopes and aspirations of today's intellectuals often reflect how they write about their forebears.

Will Sima

Australian National University, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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