China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper distills a poetics of mimetic performativity in Zhao Shuli’s socialist fictions and proposes to look at the making of “national form” from a communication perspective. The “national form” debate in 1930s-40s China reveals an intellectual dissatisfaction with both the traditional literati’s antiquarianism and the bourgeois elitists’ westernization. The subsequent canonization of the peasant writer Zhao Shuli as “People’s writer” in the communist regime is part of the process of “inventing” folk languages and literatures in the struggle against cultural hegemony. In the context of decolonization after WWII, the use of a rural patois or a regional dialect was posited as the crucial means to define a distinctive national character.
Instead of approaching the “national form” solely as a political call to the folk standpoint, I examine it as a communicative effect afforded by the illocutionary force of the stories that people—most of whom were illiterate—love to hear, see, and retell. In other words, the national popularity of certain literary forms has to be achieved in a geographical sense through continuous remediations—from written rhymes, verses, and scenarios to embodied performances—among the people, by the people, and for the people. By investigating scenes of persuasive communication depicted in Zhao Shuli’s fictions Rhymes of Li Youcai (1942) and Changes in Li Village (1943), I suggest a performative turn in socialist literature and demonstrate the political empowerment of creative mimesis. In conclusion, I argue that national form is not an essentialist cultural heritage but a spreadable script-in-the-making within ongoing acts of communication.