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6— Popular Culture in the Communist Areas
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Newspapers and a New Language

Newspapers were the most convenient carrier of cartoons and woodcuts to the people and a powerful channel for explaining the views of the CCP. Realizing their enormous influence, the Communists issued a


large number of newspapers in their Yan'an years. "Combine the barrel of a gun with the barrel of a pen" became a rallying cry of journalists.[101] In the three Communist-controlled northern border regions alone—Jin-Cha-Ji, Jin-Sui (Shanxi-Suiyuan), and Jin-Ji-Lu-Yu (Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan)—an incomplete survey revealed that 120 newspapers were in publication in 1940.[102] By 1945, 101 publications of various types were recorded in central China: 51 newspapers, 27 magazines, and 23 others.[103] Although few of the newspapers were actually typeset, and most of them were mimeographed, they became, as one writer claimed, "the collective guiding force for the unity of the military, the government, and the people."[104]

This "guiding force" did not, however, appear instantly. The Communist newspaper campaign in fact ran a twisted course as a formula for this powerful printed medium was sought. At the beginning, international news was routinely given front-page treatment, followed by events from the Guomindang areas. News in the border areas was generally given the lowest priority, appearing in the last pages of the paper and amounting to no more than one-eighth of the total space. Newspapers also followed Pravda and Dagong bao in having one editorial each day, a practice described by critics as lacking flexibility and identity. Worse still, as the propaganda chief Lu Dingyi (1906-) pointed out, in giving Guomindang news prominent coverage, publishers committed the grave mistake of not distinguishing between "enemies and friends."[105] One commentator charged that most newspapers had "the four diseases"—deafness, blindness, muteness, and feebleness: they were unheedful of the people's suggestions, inattentive to the welfare of the general public, incompetent to explain CCP policy, and incapable of standing firm against the enemy.[106] Mao sounded a similar alarm in March 1942.

In the history of the Chinese Communist press, Mao's March 1942 speech to a group of journalists concerning the style and format of the Liberation Daily ranks as a particularly important outline of policy. Delivered a month after the official launch of the Rectification Campaign and three months before his "Talks," the speech reiterated the rectification theme of combating "subjectivism, sectarianism, and stereotyped party writing (commonly known as the 'party eight-legged essay' [dang bagu ])." The press would play a central role in educating the masses about this policy, Mao insisted. Although his speech repeated the standard slogans of resistance against Japan, its main thrust was to assert the role of the Party in dealing with erroneous tendencies on the part of editors and writers. "Unless we act together and march


in unison, [this campaign] will never succeed…. Through newspapers [such as the Liberation Daily ] we can pass along experience from one section to others, thereby facilitating reform."[107]

Like Lenin, Mao viewed the newspaper as "a collective propagandist, agitator, and organizer";[108] but more than the Soviet leader, he paid particular attention to the peasant readers whom the Party was trying to reach. In the past, he charged, the newspaper had proceeded in a wrong direction; its editors ignored local news and paid little attention to actual happenings in China. The fact that two reports about Mao's Rectification Campaign appeared on page three of the Liberation Daily (2 and 10 February 1942) instead of being given front-page coverage enraged him. Furthermore, Mao argued, the paper's editors and reporters too often spoke in a language incomprehensible to the masses. They failed both to understand and meet the needs of the people.

Mao's criticism of the editorial policy of the Liberation Daily was a direct attack on Bo Gu (Qin Bangxian, 1907–1946), the paper's chief editor and a member of Wang Ming's International Faction. The faction pursued what Mao called the erroneous policies of "ignoring rural revolution" and "surrendering the independence of the Chinese Communist Party to the Guomindang." Still, the dispute reflected more than a power struggle for party leadership or a simple move away from Stalin's policy of close cooperation with the Guomindang. It was, rather, Mao's affirmation of what he believed to be the correct policy for building a socialist China. The effectiveness of a newspaper, in Mao's view, depended largely on its editors' ability to communicate with the masses, by drawing examples from everyday life and addressing their readers' immediate concerns. Mao suggested that the Party and the party newspaper should work together; in that way, serious mistakes could be corrected and a proper perspective restored.

Despite Mao's emphasis on the masses as the source of wisdom and experience, the need for a tightly organized party on the Leninist model was never far from his mind. As at his subsequent discussion with the cartoonists Hua Junwu, Zhang E, and Cai Ruohong, Mao reaffirmed the CCP's paramount role in deciding policy. "Let the whole party run the newspapers" (quan dang ban bao) became a slogan in Communist journalism.[109]

The speech to the Liberation Daily reporters yielded instant results. On 1 April 1942, the paper assumed a new look: party instructions were now printed on the front page, and reports about activities in the Communist regions increased dramatically in number. At the same


time, international news was given less coverage. The paper also became increasingly critical of the Guomindang in general and Jiang Jieshi in particular, partly through the use of cartoons and woodcuts. The primary responsibility of the press was not to discuss, but to explain and justify the policies of the Party. Chairman Mao's speech, one journalist later said, "made us realize that every word, every sentence, even a punctuation mark, must be responsible to the Party."[110]

Mao's directive was of course not limited to the Liberation Daily. Newspaper editors in other border areas were bound by it as well. In a September 1942 telegram to general Chen Yi (1901–1972), acting commander of the New Fourth Army, Mao made this clear: "Please pay close attention to newspapers and magazines in northern Jiangsu. Make sure that they serve the Party in propagating its current policy."[111] But could opposing viewpoints be printed? Perhaps they could in the Communist newspapers printed in the Guomindang-controlled territories. In a March 1942 telegram to Zhou Enlai, who supervised the publishing of the New China Daily in Chongqing, Mao stressed that "non-Party members' viewpoints should be included."[112] Yet despite this apparent openness, those viewpoints that appeared in the New China Daily were definitely sympathetic to, if not supportive of, Communist policy. Openness did not mean permissiveness, and inclusion of outside views did not rule out screening and bias.

Mao in fact tolerated no dissent in his own backyard. In the border regions, the press and the Party had to speak with one voice; and Communist journalists' self-censorship became a form of party devotion. Underlying Mao's speech was also a promotion of Chinese over foreign ideas. Rather than covering foreign events that took place in remote corners of the world, often in the form of exotic intrigues far beyond the comprehension of humble peasants, the press must address local problems and write about the joys and sufferings of the country folk. The battle against excessive "foreignism" received widespread support among party officials and intellectuals alike. The blind borrowing of "foreign eight-legged essays" (yang bagu) could sound the death knell of Chinese literature, Zhou Yang stated.[113]

The result was a dramatic increase in newspaper coverage of local issues. The CCP instructed cadres to lend a hand in the production of local papers, supplying information and contributing articles whenever possible. Such tasks, as the Party's directive made clear, "should be regarded as part of your regular, important work."[114] The ShanxiSuiyuan Daily (Jin-Sui ribao, later renamed the Resistance War Daily [Kangzhan ribao ]) adopted a policy of "localization and populariza-


tion" in 1942, devoting three-fifths of its space to coverage of regional events.[115] Mao, in his meeting with a representative from the Shanxi-Suiyuan Daily in December 1944, made his argument even more explicit: "In the newspaper layout, local news is the most important, followed by national, and then international…. You are not running the newspaper for the New China News Agency [in Yan'an]," he told the representative, "you are publishing it for the people in the ShanxiSuiyuan Border Region."[116] The presence of these local editors and reporters, be they professional or amateur, had a double significance: practically, it represented an important link between the Party and the peasantry; symbolically, it reaffirmed Mao's commitment to address China's issues at their most basic level.

"Localization," however, was by no means the only issue confronting Communist journalists. Finding a proper newspaper language became an equally challenging task. The early Communist newspapers used a language laden with elegant phrases and high rhetoric, which hardly evinced an emotional affinity with rural readers. Seemingly aware of these dangers, Deng Tuo (1912–1966), editor of the Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei Daily (Jin-Cha-Ji ribao), urged his fellow journalists to restrict their vocabulary to combinations of no more than 3,000 characters.[117] Literary essays interlaced with esoteric terms and opaque expressions, he warned, could form a wall between the writers and the people. For Deng, establishing direct contact with the people was more important than writing style. Political ideas and values were meaningful, after all, only if they could be comprehended and eventually assimilated. "It does not matter if the term is native or foreign; so long as it is understood by the people, it is a good term," he once said.[118] The smaller number of Chinese characters used in his newspaper also met a practical need: flexibility. Given the constant threat of enemy attack, a "guerrilla-type" press needed to be developed for easy mobility. Simple printing equipment could be rapidly mounted on donkeys or mules and make a swift and safe retreat when enemy troops were approaching. This kind of operation earned the ShanxiChahar-Hebei Daily the sobriquet "The Paper Published on the Back of Eight Mules" (Batou luozi banbao).[119]

Small newspapers appeared in profusion in the Communist areas, their target being semiliterate and illiterate villagers. While it is difficult to gauge their impact, the outpouring of such publications suggests that they commanded a wide readership in the countryside. In 1945, according to one survey, the border areas boasted more than seventy tabloids.[120] Among these small newspapers, perhaps


the Border Region People's Press (Bianqu qunzhong bao), launched on 25 March 1940, was the most famous; as its editor, Hu Jiwei (1916-), put it, the goal was that "those who know a few words can read it; and those who are illiterate can understand it when it is read to them."[121] Although both the Liberation Daily and the Border Region People's Press were official party papers (the former for the Central Committee of the CCP, the latter for the local committee), they targeted different audiences—on the one hand, cadres, especially middle- and high-level officials, and on the other, the general public. As the principal party paper, the Liberation Daily adopted a more traditional hard-news approach; the Border Region People's Press, by contrast, covered a broader range of lively topics. Its articles were relatively short, often less political, and written in a vivid style. The paper concentrated on concrete economic and social issues, such as raising literacy in the countryside, improving local sanitation, and increasing agricultural yield; thus it served as an information channel as well as a classroom for the peasants. To broaden its appeal, the paper also incorporated yangge, folk songs, riddles, and kuaiban.[122] By addressing day-to-day problems, the Border Region People's Press reduced the general campaign of a socialist revolution to its most concrete and effective terms.

To many Communist intellectuals, "popularization" meant finding an ideal language with which to communicate with the villagers. Ai Siqi (1905–1966), author of the popular book Philosophy for the Masses (Dazhong zhexue, 1934), argued vehemently that a basic understanding of "the people's language" was essential in reaching both the heart and mind of the country folk.[123] To the Communists, language was not simply a vehicle of communication; it was an essential ingredient in the shaping of a new political reality and hence a new social order. In many ways, politics in Yan'an became an unending search for a "people's language" capable of stirring up the masses and galvanizing their support.

The significance of language in driving a revolution is paramount. Political upheavals produce new vocabulary, rituals, and symbols that work together to shatter old political structures and renounce tradition while affirming new values or establishing a new community. Francois Furet has argued, for example, that during the French Revolution the political vacuum created by the French monarchy between 1787 and 1789 was filled by a new political language that attempted to redefine reality: "Language was substituted for power, for it was the sole guarantee that power would belong only to the peo-


ple, that is, to nobody."[124] Similarly, Mona Ozouf contends that speeches at revolutionary festivals were aimed at establishing a new national identity based on space and time.[125] In an unstable and transitional period, language becomes a symbol of power, and politics turns into a competition for words. New political language wields enormous power. It signals a new era and can be crucial in justifying the legitimacy of the event.

The Chinese Communists used language for just these purposes. But in contrast to a complex plural society where, in J.G.A. Pocock's words, people speak "a complex plural language,"[126] Mao and his associates adopted a political language marked by both precision and force. There was little room for ambiguity in the Chinese Communist system. As a result, the language evolved not through consensus, but by being imposed from above. It was a powerful tool able to shape people's perceptions, carefully contrived to appeal to their emotions as well as their minds. In the hands of the Communists, language took on the Marxist function of an instrument for class struggle, fostering social change and revolutionary reform. It was also used in the Durkheimian fashion as a vehicle of cultural integration, pulling disparate elements together to face the common task of establishing a new order. To create a collective feeling in the Communist border regions, new political terms were created and old ones rejuvenated, all invested with lofty political ideals and high emotion. Clichés took on new life when the Communists used them to explain new social circumstances. Indeed, Mao and his associates had an astonishing flair for reducing complex ideas to a few simple, powerful slogans.

The aim in adopting a new political language was not only to signal a break with the past, but also to transfer individual loyalty to a collective goal. Nowhere is this notion better demonstrated than in the specific names given to an array of magazines and newspapers. The terms qunzhong (the masses), dazhong (the people), laobaixing (the common folk), and nongmin (the peasants) were widely used. In southwestern Shanxi, for example, one found the Common Folk (Laobaixing), The Peasant (Nongmin); in the Shanxi-Suiyuan Border Region, the Shanxi-Suiyuan People's Press (Jin-Sui dazhong bao); in western Hebei, the Common Folk's Press (Laobaixing bao); and in northern Jiangsu, Yan-Fu People (Yan-Fu dazhong).[127]

None of these terms, of course, was exactly new. But each was infused with a strong sense of righteousness and a fresh political connotation. Thus the old forms took on new vigor, and clichés became battle cries for a new social order. The terms were also intended to


create a feeling of sharing: everyone was included, and all were working toward a common goal. Only through continuous struggle and numerous hardships could they bring about the painful birth of the new order. The fact that political terms like laobaixing and qunzhong were being used over and over again only added to their symbolic significance. The new community in Yan'an was therefore a laobaixing's community, a dazhong's world, radically different from past societies where kings and generals ruled, and completely at odds with a capitalist society, where personal gain and fame reigned supreme. In a socialist country, a community was not made up of "individuals"; rather, it was a community of "us," belonging to the common people. The term dazhong became so prevalent that Literature and Art Attack (Wenyi tuji), a well-known publication in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region, was renamed People's Literature and Art (Dazhong wenyi), shedding its former belligerent image and becoming, as its editors claimed, "a magazine that truly belongs to the people."[128]

But revolutionary language did more than just create a sense of belonging. The Communists used it as an instrument for political and social struggle. For them, revolutionary language was a means of empowerment, allowing the masses to feel control over their own destiny. The term fanshen (freeing oneself, standing up, turning over) is a good example of this rhetoric. In his book of the same name, William Hinton gives a good description of the term:

Literally, it means "to turn the body," or "to turn over." To China's hundreds of millions of landless and land-poor peasants it meant to stand up, to throw off the landlord yoke, to gain land, stock, implements, and houses. But it meant much more than this. It meant to throw off superstition and study science, to abolish "word blindness" and learn to read, to cease considering women as chattels and establish equality between the sexes, to do away with appointed village magistrates and replace them with elected councils, it meant to enter a new world.[129]

Although Hinton's book treats dramatic social and political changes in a northern Chinese village in the late 1940s, the term fanshen had already gained currency in the Jiangxi Soviet period.[130] In sharp contrast to most political vocabulary, which tends to be quite abstract, fanshen is highly specific and concrete. Like the term jiefang (liberation, as in Liberation Daily), it is a vivid metaphor that evokes an intense response. It is also a rhetorical exercise replete with potent political implications.


To be effective, the anthropologist Robert Paine argues, rhetoric must come across in such a way that listeners believe their interests are shared and reflected in what is said.[131] Chinese Communists showed political acumen in fostering such a "we are together" feeling. They portrayed themselves as the representatives of oppressed people, fighting against a common enemy and sharing the same historical destiny. Used in opposition to shou yapo (oppressed), fanshen represents a new beginning, a new life free of oppression. And like all successful political terms, fanshen conjures up a vivid image: that of a new society, divorced from the past, in which humble people finally are capable of "turning" over. No longer at the bottom of the social hierarchy, they are masters of a new order.

While wartime newspaper vocabulary such as "paper bullets" inspired determination and patriotism, Communist political language had a different purpose: it provided a unifying political symbol for the common struggle ahead. Fanshen thus functioned as a tool of political integration and social transformation. It became a catch-all phrase, appearing in songs, folk tunes, novels, dramas, and yangge plays. Examples abound: the poet Tian Jian's (1916–1985) famous series "Songs of Turning Over" ("Fanshen ge") specifically praised the achievements and wise guidance of the CCP;[132] organizations with names like "Fanshen Drama Club" ("Fanshen jutuan") sprang up everywhere;[133] and comic strips using fanshen in their titles were not at all uncommon.[134] The writer Zhao Shuli's (1906–1970) 1945 short story "Meng Xiangying Turns Over" ("Meng Xiangying fanshen"), allegedly based on a true story, depicts a poor peasant woman in the Jin-Cha-Ji Border Region who finds new life by joining the local Communist committee. In the end, she is selected as a model peasant in her county.[135]

The passion for fanshen often ran high, especially when it concerned a sea of disgruntled peasants who had been aroused by Communist political suasion. A song from the yangge play Qin Luozheng reflects this strong political sentiment: "Like a sudden roar of spring thunder, the 'turning over' of the peasants has shaken heaven and earth." The term fanshen was more than a mere political slogan. It underlined, as Hinton rightly points out, a cultural transformation as well. The Communists argued that a profound cultural change should begin with basic education. Learning now belonged to everyone, no longer to a privileged few. Ma Ke's Husband and Wife Learn to Read, for example, depicts a peasant couple, Liu Er and his wife (curiously, her name is never mentioned, perhaps indicating a certain bias of the


author) striving to become literate. Ultimately, their hard work yields positive results:

Liu Er (singing):
We know nothing if we don't study.
In the past, when you were uneducated,
You were subjected to humiliation without even understanding
Liu Er and his wife (singing together):
Now, we finally are "turning over"!
The suffering people have become the masters.
How can an illiterate person [zhengyan de xiazi] walk?
Learning to read is the most urgent task.
Oh, the most urgent task.

Fanshen kept appearing in yangge plays such as Twelve Sickles and An Honor Lamp, a compelling assertion that the peasants had finally stood up after centuries of being oppressed by evil gentry and ruthless landlords. It was an attack against the Guomindang, certainly; but even more it was a paean to Mao and his followers.

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