Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Area and Cultural Studies
In Search of the Commune: China's Cultural Experiments for a New Society (1947-1962)

This study examines the diverse cultural innovators of China's early socialist period who committed themselves, both body and pen, to the realization of the commune as a new social unit premised on principles of collective ownership and equal social relations. As a comparative study, it will analyze a range of regional cases, including literature about Hebei's land reforms of the late 1940s, reportage literature from agrarian cooperatives in the mid 1950s, and mass theater creations of both agrarian and urban communes in Henan during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962). By juxtaposing cultural works against an analysis of historical records, I will interrogate how thinkers engaged culture as a means to reflect upon, critique, and even intervene in social transformations underway. These Chinese thinkers thought beyond local conditions to envision the commune within an internationalist horizon; they developed their cultural proposals for the commune by engaging an international genealogy of experiments ranging from the Paris Commune (1871) to those in contemporary Soviet Russia. As such, my research examines processes by which China's cultural experimenters sought to establish the commune as a structure that could link locally based efforts to internationalist visions for a "new society." These internationalist projects include Sino-Soviet initiatives for mass science and education developed in the mid-1950s, as well as Chinese experiments in literary reportage that drew inspiration from Soviet interlocutors. By teasing out the internationalist commitments of regional communalization projects, I hope to establish the diverse cultural and intellectual resources that informed the development of China's communes. Instead of taking up the commune as a strictly state-mandated project, this investigation therefore investigates its early history as a proposition, informing contending desires and debates for the future of both China and world.