The catastrophe remembered by the non-traumatic: counternarratives on the Cultural Revolution in Chinese literature of the 1990s

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2004

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Ma, Yue

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Abstract

After its demise in 1976, the Cultural Revolution has been conventionally portrayed as an era of political persecution, a “cultural desert,” an ascetic regime, and a decade of total chaos. Contested memories of this period, however, appeared in literary writings of the 1990s: memories that placed in the foreground self-motivated learning, sexual indulgence, juvenile adventure and mundane living. Remembering the Cultural Revolution from the perspectives of the nontraumatic, these narratives allowed certain social groups and individuals to forge new identities beyond that of the political victim. My dissertation studies these alternative narratives that “detraumatize” the Cultural Revolution, paying special attention to the actions and relations of literary producers who played a significant role in defining the discursive functions of these works. I argue that, while sharing a common gesture of redeeming personal histories from a collective past, these narratives were used in various ways to serve the needs of the present. In different cases, the construction of an “alternative reality” of the Cultural Revolution could serve as a coping strategy that fulfills personal or psychological needs, as a means to legitimize new intellectual trends, as a way to boost an emerging cultural fashion, or as a weapon with which cultural agents contend for positions in a drastically restructured cultural field.

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