Semantron 23 Summer 2023

The interior self in Maoist China

For those fleeing the mainland, Hong Kong was a pocket of western liberal values, a space enabling individual agency, permitted personal subjectivity, and freedom of thought. Under Mao, it was of great risk to record one’s thoughts for fear of the now -untrustworthy diary being exposed, the brain now the final space the regime couldn’t completely control. These citizens entered Hong Kong as walking internal narratives, physical embodiments of their diary. In China, the diary was an invaluable indoctrination tool of the CCP to promote Mao Zedong Thought. However, the diary had been a tool of previous governments before the CCP. The Chinese Nationalist Party saw the diary as a means of creating a self-disciplined and earnest populace, with its authors educated, city- dwelling citizens. This clearly presaged Mao’s desire to exterminate the ‘privileged’ intellectual class to reassert Mao Zedong Thought as China’s dominant ideology through the 100 Flowers Movement and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 – 76. The notion of the ‘personal’ diary changed significantly under the Kuomintang, with the introduction of the idea that it was a collaborative document of immense ‘ disciplinary and pedagogical value ’. 3 This was emphasized by military officers sharing diary accounts, as well as teachers reading schoolchildren’s diaries and commending those deemed exceptional. ‘ Adaptable for almost any modern political order ’ 4 the diary under the CCP became a ‘ workspace for hammering out revolutionary subjectivity ’, 5 dissolving any capacity for individual thought. This was particularly important in wiping out alternative ideologies held by educated Chinese based in former KMT areas. While not hidden nor regular ly monitored, the regime’s ‘investigation committees’ had authority to review citizens’ diaries if they sought to convict them of charges against the state. This held the diarist hostage to their future confessions, with Michael Schoenhals regarding diaries as ‘ important tools in the creation of social knowledge by the state apparatus ’. 6 French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s vision of power and theory on ‘habitus’ is relevant to the case of the diary in China and its status as a socio-political space. Bourdieu saw power as ‘ symbolically created . . . through an interplay of agency and structure ’. 7 This interplay between agency (the individual) and structure (the state apparatus) is exemplified by both attempts to harness the diary as a tool. Bourdieu defin ed ‘habitus’ as ‘ the way society becomes deposited in persons in the form of lasting dispositions . . . to think, feel and act in determinant ways ’. 8 This engineered movement away from the unique to the indistinguishable was a radical attempt to install a uniform society that collectively conformed to Mao Zedong Thought. While it appears that the regime had rendered the diary as documents that only served the state, the diary in Maoist China was also a tool of the individual. For one, diaries allowed the people to make political sense of the regime. Youth in high schools, universities, and juvenile delinquent centres were given diaries by the party. The regime sought to give the future of China the experience of artificial

3 Moore, A. Personal Diaries. Personal Diaries ( 日 记 ) | Mao Era in Objects ( Consulted: 30/07/2022.

4 Ibid. 5 Ibid.

6 Schoenhals, M. Diaries . Consulted: 31/07/22. 7 Wacquant, L. (2005) Habitus: International Encyclopaedia of Economic Sociology . London, Routledge. 8 Ibid.


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