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Rhetoric and the Politics of Control in Maoist China

Wed, June 24, 11:05am to 1:00pm, South Building, Floor: 7th Floor, S719

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


This panel takes a new look at political discourse as social control by analyzing rhetoric used in foundational texts, propaganda, media, and political campaigns in the Mao era. In the 1950s and 1960s people were actively encouraged to participate in politics, whether this involved commenting on China’s first constitution, attacking political enemies through the Anti-Rightist Campaign, or making and viewing class education exhibitions. While the rhetoric of political campaigns is often thought of as imposed top-down and then voiced by participants, the papers of this panel suggest that there were counter-voices, that rhetorical acrobatics served unexpected aims, and that language was appropriated from one campaign to the next.

Diamant’s archive-based analysis of the national discussion of the draft of the 1954 Constitution finds that rather than serving as a mechanism for state legitimation, it was widely interpreted through the prism of fear, even among police officials charged with enforcing it. Cliver examines efforts to control capitalists during the Anti-Rightist Campaign, showing that the language of attack concealed other factors besides what individuals had expressed during the preceding Hundred Flowers Movement. Also exploring the Anti-Rightist movement, but through the case of Zhang Naiqi and the role of the media, Chin argues that newspaper coverage of the case served as a public tribunal in that ultimately brought about Zhang’s downfall. Finally, Ho studies exhibitions of class during the Socialist Education Movement and Red Guard exhibitions at the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, demonstrating how displays functioned as texts and templates of class

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