Chinese literature: Literature in the Communist Era

Literature in the Communist Era

Fiction during the first years after the 1949 Communist revolution depicted the great social transformations taking place. Party leaders advocated socialist realism, which was marked by strict adherence to party doctrine and by a narrow emphasis on the credible depiction of external reality; it inhibited writers' creativity and led to stagnation.

The Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956–57) encouraged writers and other intellectuals to voice criticisms of party policy. Those who did so were soon punished during the 1957 antirightist campaign, when they were denounced and either imprisoned or sent to labor reform camps. Many, such as Wang Meng and Zhang Xianliang, were to remain confined for over two decades. Even harsher was the 1966–76 Cultural Revolution, during which thousands of intellectuals were sent to work on distant farms. Some writers, such as Lao She, were either murdered or committed suicide.

Following Mao Zedong's death in 1976 and Deng Xiaoping's consolidation of power in 1979, strictures on literary freedom were relaxed. The first stories from this period relate the nightmarish experiences of the Cultural Revolution—the “literature of the wounded.” Despite a crackdown on “bourgeois liberalism” and “spiritual pollution,” writing continued to flourish in the 1980s. Many works struggled with general social issues, such as official corruption and overcrowding; feminist issues were treated in novels by women writers such as Zhang Jie and Wang Anyi. Reportage literature, a hybrid of journalism and fiction, grew popular. Novelists experimented with stream of consciousness and other narrative techniques, while the Misty School of poets, exemplified by Bei Dao, Duo Duo, and Gu Cheng, developed a fusion of various modernist styles.

Han Shaogong, Ah Cheng, and others developed a “seeking roots” literature, characterized by rural settings, geographical and botanical descriptions, and the incorporation of local dialects and folklore. Zhang Xianliang, Gu Hua, and Can Xue were prominent among the regional writers who emerged, most notably from China's far west and south. After the massacre of prodemocracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square (June 4, 1989), many writers fled China, fearing government reprisals for their support of the democracy movement. Most continue to write in exile, publishing their work in literary journals in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas.

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