With the decline of the Qing dynasty in the 1800s, Chinese intellectuals, writers and readers began to assign literature a special role in their hopes of establishing a new modern nation-state and of reforming traditional society and culture. After the overthrow of the imperial dynasty in 1911, literature became even more central to aspirations for a radical transformation of China, championing class and gender liberation. Playing an important part in the dissemination of class-consciousness and anti-imperialist politics during the first half of the twentieth-century, literature and other forms of culture were further enlisted to support the revolutionary political experiments of the Maoist era. In the post-Mao era, literature became an invaluable realm for reflecting upon the meaning and aftermath of Communist politics, even as new social visions and political aspirations have struggled to be heard.
Through the study of a representative selection of literary essays, fiction, poetry and drama, as well as some secondary scholarship on the topic, this course examines how creative expression has been utilized to depict a need for social change, to disseminate radical ideas and to present competing visions of reform and revolution, as well as consider how politics has often subsumed literature in modern China. At the same time, we will consider the nature of literature and creative expression to political aspirations, ideologies and institutions in general, from both sympathetic and critical viewpoints