Week 7 Reading Discussion

This week’s readings include the following: Yomi Braester’s “Memory at a Standstill: From Maohistory to Hooligan History” (2003) and Geremie Barme’s “Wang Shuo and ‘Liumang’ (Hooligan) Culture” (1992). Pick one (or both if you dig ’em) and hop in below…

R-Log due by Sunday (2/26), 11:59 pm.

5 thoughts on “Week 7 Reading Discussion

  1. “The title and opening passage of In the Heat of the Sun recontextualize Mao’s personality cult in terms of raw emotions and reinterpret Mao’s relentless light as the scorching of memory. Moreover, the depiction of the cultural revolution as a period of brightness becomes ironic when one recalls that the Red Guards would at times order incarcerated “counterrevolutionaries” to look straight at the sun, hours on end. The consequent permanent damage to eyesight entailed that victims would carry the memory of their torture in the form of ever-visible blurs and black spots. Mao’s sun was literally too bright, and the opening passage foreshadows the breakdown of memory.” -Braester 203

    First of all, I really like this passage. It seems poetic and I like it when irony crops up so perfectly in real life. The dual interpretation of “brightness” being positive and negative and then relating that back to the sun being personified as Mao himself is just great. That leads me to think about the sun blurring perceptions even more. The heat and brightness of the sun can literally lead to visions that are divorced from reality in the form of mirages. Mirages are often positive images which plays back nicely into the theme of this reading which is romanticizing a rather dark period.
    The last sentence about Mao’s sun being too bright is interesting to me as well. The sun is always too bright. You’re never supposed to look directly at the sun because it is too dangerous. Just like looking directly at Mao or the CCP could lead to criticism which was also dangerous. Being critical of the CCP or the Cultural Revolution was like staring directly at the sun for too long. You may get a good look at it sure but at a terrible cost. Mao’s light didn’t just “scorch” memories, it prevented them from forming in the first place. You can’t be critical about something you never truly examined.

    I know that in modern China there are harsh restrictions on the information available to Chinese citizens. However, with the technologies available today it would be really surprising to me if the majority of Chinese people didn’t have more mature perspectives on their current government. Even in North Korea there are things smuggled into the restricted population. How will the modern Chinese government adapt to the true education of its people?

  2. “I’m Most interested in the social stratum that [enjoys] a popular lifestyle…. that contains violence and sex, mockery and shamelessness.” (Wang Shuo, March 1989)
    This passage of Beijing novelist Wang Shuo was astounding to me, that during a period not too long ago, seemed to have similar culture clashes in a way that I cannot help but compare and contrast history repeating itself with the United States today. While many people say the current Trump administration seems to emulate the cultural wash over to that of Nazi occupied Germany by Adolf Hitler, I find many of the current tactics employed of the Republican party to be more likened to Maoist regime: totting Nationalist patriotism above reason, religious rhetoric above facts, the supreme leader’s whim above individual rights, and empowering the lower class to physically or ideologically overthrow the proletariat. While the United States has not [yet] come to the point of public struggles, citizens taking law and judgment into their own hands certainly has implanted itself in the idea of shameless nationalist/bigoted pride.

    This is where I found a fascinating comparison between the highly criticized “Liumang” subculture from which Wang’s works of inspired fiction, he himself a product of, and the subculture in present day United States that has evolved overtime from the hippy to the hipster. Hipsters are constantly criticized in American society for many of the same negative connotations of Wang’s “Liumang”: loafer, hoodlum, hobo, bum, punk, lethargic, anti-social and perhaps the most unfair label of being a “potential criminal”. Embracing the sexual freedom of the youth culture, men were labeled rapists and women were labeled whores, shamed for their loose morality and consistently compared to the black-market, which I see more and more shameful behaviors and cultures compared to prostitution. The comparisons continue stereotyping Liumang to residing in an urban setting, being ill-mannered, unemployed, disrespectful to authority and shunned as the “vulgar masses”, similarly to how anyone who who opposes the current regime is labeled as a liberal, socialist, loser among more inappropriate labels. These liberal hooligans are accused of opposing law and order simply for opposing the current party in power, or even daring to question the nonsensical absurdity of unquestioned patriotism which Wang did constantly. Just as it is done constantly today, Wang Shuo blurred the lines of right and wrong/black and white, just as many liberal intellectuals today continue to do, questioning authoritative law based on scientific facts and statistical data, protesting government officials at public forums, vocally displaying disapproval for public officials and challenging the legal authority the party in power has to enforce their control.

    I would be interested to see what Wang Shuo’s writings would have been like had he enjoyed the intellectual freedom living in a western culture. Had he been able to pass his inspired fiction to a culture less oppressive than Cultural Revolution dominated China, how much more his works would have been embraced, and not written off as a societal reject who wasn’t to be taken seriously. Since his writings were ‘fiction’ instead of a blog, biographical accounts of his experiences in China with less ‘creative liberties’, as a true common man of the of the passed of ‘unoffical’ world of China. I believe he would have thrived mocking our present day public officials, and embracing the seedy underworld the elite and their poverty-low class supporters fear is dooming society.

  3. “As already mentioned, the director stands by this description and equates adolescence with “bright sunny days” thereby rejecting the subjection of personal experience to the national narrative of suffering during the Cultural Revolution. Yet this description of the period as flooded in eternal sunlight cannot avoid being interpreted in the light of the cult of Mao as the “Bright Red Sun””

    I really like the use of “bright sunny days” as a descriptive for adolescent years as it is used almost metaphorically to give a sense of warmth and happiness that everyone has felt during the early years of their life. The director uses it in this fashion to help showcase that even during the Cultural Revolution, adolescents were not subject to the violence around them and were instead basked in an eternal sunlight (representing their own happiness) that was brought upon by Mao, who was also represented as the Red Sun of China. It is very symbolic and metaphorical as the adolescents during this time were part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and formed a “cult” of Red Guards who were told to help shape China’s future.

    However it makes me wonder, did China’s Red Guards who committed violent crimes realize what they did was wrong after the country was in state of turmoil? Did many of them understand later on that their actions were morally wrong or were they too caught up in the Mao movement and his ideals to realize?

  4. “Who are these protagonists [In the three stories by Xu, Chen and Liu]? . . . are they a contemporary Chinese mutant of the ‘absurdists’, ‘Dadaists’, ‘black humorist’, and ‘beat generation’ of modern and contemporary western literature? It would seem that they contain all of these.” –Liu Xiaobo in Barmé 42

    The above quote, where the Chinese literary critic Liu Xiabo likens the Chinese Liumang culture to the various Western subcultures built on irreverence and cynicism, such as the American Beat Generation, and the European Dadaists, was very interesting to me. This comparison works well, as there are surface level parallels between the subcultures, such as the animosity towards traditional social values and the embracing of an easygoing approach to life. While there are apparent similarities, there is also the very interesting shared genesis of the various subcultures; cultural trauma on a generational scale. The Beatniks and the Dadaists were both born out of societies that had recently been scarred by the most grueling war seen by their societies up to that point. The cultural kick-start of the Beatniks and the Dadaists is shared in concept by the Liumang, who take their spirit from the ideological violence of the Cultural Revolution. This parallel is fascinating as it could suggest that modern cultures respond to mass trauma by turning away from traditional values towards individualistic apathy. One question that I would love to have answered is how directly influential these western countercultures were on the Liumangs.

    As an aside, if anyone knows about a book or article examining how Liumang culture and western subculture are related (If at all), I would be interested reading about the subject.

  5. “‘Heroism’ has often been cited as the main standard for evaluating the characters in the Cultural Revolution production. . . reflects Mao’s requirement that revolutionary literature and art ‘can and must be more lofty, more intense, more concentrated, more typical and more ideal than daily life,’ and Li’s character reflects Jian Qing’s directive ‘to make this heroic image…more sublime [ellipsis in original]”. (Braester,197)

    I am unsure if using this quote is a fair understanding of the assignment as at least a third of it is a literal quote from Mao himself. Nonetheless I think its place in the chapter is critical. Not only does this quote demonstrate the differences in Chinese films in the post-Maoist era in their attempt to abandon the over-the-top dramatic renditions of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dogma, but it further illuminates the divide between rhetoric and the subjective experience of living through the Cultural Revolution. The narrative of proud patriotic Chinese youth that is found in Red Detachment of Women (1961) that must have reverberated with the idealistic Red Guardsmen of the late 1960s, but is inverted or satirized not only by In the Heat of the Sun (1994) but also in the violent last stand of the winemakers in Red Sorghum (1987). Within Heat of the Sun’s lies the narrator’s struggle to reconcile the disconnect between the bombastic displays of nationalist heroes and the at times bleaker, dirtier, and less convenient memories we form of reality. Braester argues these conflicting views of history interact in a way that gives rise to recollections that are as much fact as artistic license.

    My question is this: How can an outside observer discern what part of China’s cultural memory (from its art and literature) are constructions of that period’s artists and how has that memory changed due to both concerted efforts of government censorship and by the commercialization of art in China.

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