“Knowledge is power.” Thus begins the editorial note in each volume of the Knowledge Series (Zhishi congshu) published during the early 1960s. Although congruent with beliefs about “scientific socialism,” this series, launched by the Ministry of Culture’s Hu Yuzhi in 1961, contrasted clearly with series from earlier in the 1950s that privileged works from the Soviet Union, the ostensible source of socialist academic knowledge. Instead, the Knowledge Series harked back to an earlier era of Chinese series publishing during the 1920s and 1930s, when publishers offered a broad cross-section of academic, technical, and ordinary knowledge from Europe, North America, and Japan to a general readership in the form of synthetic overviews. These points of contrast and continuity with earlier series raise vital questions about the definition of “knowledge” (zhishi) during the Mao era—in relation to information (xiaoxi, xinxi) and ideology (sixiang, yishi xingtai)—and its social, political, and cultural roles. This paper will explore the nature of Mao-era knowledge by considering this series’ justification, architecture, and framing of particular texts.
Despite many clear parallels to Republican period collections, the Knowledge Series differed in two fundamental ways. First, the division of labor among Chinese publishers introduced after the founding of the PRC meant that multiple companies now had to collaborate to produce a comprehensive series. Second, instead of aiming for a general readership, the Knowledge Series explicitly targeted cadres as its intended audience. Both differences had implications for power over knowledge and how knowledge had and made power during the Mao era.