Semantron 23 Summer 2023

The interior self in Maoist China

revolutionary mass movements, as seen in the Cultural Revolution. The young diarist would be able to note records of correspondences and their own reflections to discover where they stood in society. Despite keeping one, the diary was the object through which ‘ literate citizens have processed public discourse ’. 9 The diary’s value to the authoritarian regime extended beyond being a tool for indoctrination. The diary was also a politically crafted physical product that ensured that it was an ‘ intimate friend ’ 10 of every citizen. By the time the CCP consolidated its power, the means of diary production and distribution were waiting to be ‘ repurposed by a more effective political organization than the KMT ’. 11 As Moore notes, use of pulped wood for cheaper and more durable paper, the development of recovery boilers in the 1930s, and the increased access to rubber-cartridge fountain pens facilitated mass production of these cheaply bound portable objects in ex-KMT strongholds. From 1952, Shanghai’s Yaguang Stationary rapidly produced ‘democracy diaries’. Inspired by Mao’s On New Democracy , these diaries were always on one’s person, being able to fit in a specifically designed pocket of ‘Mao Suits’, a modified version of Sun Yat - Sen’s two - piece suit. The CCP’s ingenious decision to take up the KMT model and exploit the diary’s place in politics and culture proved to be of immense value, as it forced a material connection between the individual and the regime and in turn subordinated the people to Mao’s ideological control. When looking beyond the diary’s value to the authoritarian regime of the CCP, the diary’s value as a type of historical document is immense. Although laced with untruths and falsified information promoted by the party, these books known as ‘Peace Diary’ or ‘Work and Study Diary’ reveal how the population accepted and comprehended communism, but also how they applied its tenets to their lives. The complexity of the diary as a historical source, with its ‘ uncertain nature between literary and historical writing ’ 12 has long frustrated historians and is further complicated by ‘ the relationship between the diarist’s subjective voice and objective reality’. 13 This is especially relevant in Maoist China and the endless struggle between the narrative of the ‘individual’ and the narrative of the state, typified by Sino-Japanese collaborator Bai Jianwu considering the diary as a ‘ political performance ’. 14 This confirms the transformati on of the diary from an individual’s private document into a document written to compete for party praise and recognition. This feat of the regime can be compared with the development of the view of the diary in Britain at the same point in time as the beg inning of Mao’s chairmanship. Between the 1920s and 1950s, diary keeping was ‘ one way of making sense of changing notions of the self [and] individual privacy ’. 15 The celebrated daily action of recording diary entries was seen as a meaningful practice. The increased 9 Moore, A. Personal Diaries. Personal Diaries ( 日 记 ) | Mao Era in Objects ( Consulted: 30/07/2022. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Hellbeck, J. (2004) ‘The Diary between Literature and History: A Historian’s Critical Response’, The Russian Review Vol. 63, 4: 621-629. 13 Ibid. 14 Dryburgh, M. (2009) ‘Rewriting Collaboration: China, Japan, and the Self in the Diaries of Bai Jianwu’, The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 68, 3: 689-714. 15 Ibid.


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