The Making and Remaking of China’s Red Classics


Bursaries available for doctoral students/early career researchers

University of Queensland
18-20 July 2014

A symposium on the topic ‘The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture in Literary Icons of Socialism and their Contemporary Remakes’ will be held at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, as part of a research project involving scholars from Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Taiwan and the US.

Thanks to generous funding support from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, bursaries have just been made available for 3 doctoral students/early career researchers to attend the symposium as well as participate in a masterclass at which they can discuss their projects with international experts in the field including Prof Li Yang, Prof Richard King, Prof Kuiyi Shen, Prof Chen Xiaomei and Prof Barbara Mittler. More details of the symposium can be found below.

The successful applicants will receive 4 nights accommodation in Brisbane and assistance with airfares: US$500 for Australian and New Zealand applicants and US$1500-2,000 for other international applicants dependent on relative costs of air travel.

Applicants should send a CV, abstract of current research, letter of endorsement from supervisor and brief statement of why they wish to attend by email to or by June 24 and will be notified of the result as soon as possible after that.

For further information about the symposium please contact pro Dr.
Rosemary Roberts (University of Queensland) or Dr. Li Li Peters (University of Denver) at the email addresses given above.

The symposium is part of a larger project that is bringing together 14 highly qualified scholars from Taiwan, PRC, the US, Canada, Germany and Australia to collaborate in producing the first collection of critical/research essays examining the original making and subsequent multiple re-makings of mainland China’s ‘red classics’: a term that has recently come to refer to the major works of literature, film, and other cultural products that were first produced and rose to national prominence during the early period of communist rule. The workshop will allow the 14 scholars who are contributing chapters to the book to present and discuss their chapters, thereby promoting international scholarly collaboration across nations and enhancing the quality of the book project. Our application also includes funding for bursaries to enable 2-4 postgraduate students to attend the workshop and an associated master class, thereby providing a unique learning and networking opportunity for the next generation of researchers in the field. Description of the Project “Red Classics” in post-Mao Chinese cultural discourse refers to the major literary and visual texts produced in the seventeen years from 1949, the year of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to 1966, the year Mao launched the Cultural Revolution; hence they are also called literature/film of “the Seventeen Years,” or “socialist literature/culture.” This body of literary and visual texts as a whole reflects the results of a nationwide, state-sanctioned literary practice of constructing revolutionary myth in order to legitimize and secure the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in mainland China. At the same time the works created models of the socialist new person offering a vision of how the individual and collective should function in a more egalitarian, socially considerate and selfless manner. While the thematic and stylistic potential initially demonstrated in the original sources of many such texts were rich and diverse, as the political climate in China changed, works were progressively made to fit into the CCP’s increasingly homogenized and extremist ideological system through a complex process of appropriations and revisions. This process reached its extreme in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) during which the nation’s cultural landscape shrank into a single narrow ideological mold dominated by class struggle and typified by the famous Revolutionary Model Operas (Yangbanxi) whose ranks included remakes of red classics including Tracks in the Snowy Forest and The Red Lantern. It is no surprise that after the end of the Cultural Revolution, this body of ‘socialist realist’ literature was quickly abandoned, together with Maoist ideology, as the Chinese people embraced the new era of reforms. The ensuing 1980s saw a rapid economic expansion, a surge of new modes of literary and artistic experiments, and quickly shifting literary trends from modernism to postmodernism. In the 1990s and continuing into the new millennium, however, as the country’s economic reforms continued to expand, new problems emerged including the ever-greater disparity between rich and poor, and rampant official corruption. Paralleling this, a significant change occurred in China’s cultural landscape — a change ironically marked by the return of the literary and cultural products of “the Seventeen Years,” now elevated to the status of “Red Classics.” The novels and short stories first published in “the Seventeen Years” were put back onto the shelves of the now privately owned bookstores; old films about revolutionary heroes and heroines were remade into better images and sound-tracks, with Blue Ray definition, playing in showrooms right next to those playing Batman. Old revolutionary stories were adapted into household television dramas, played by stars of kung fu films; and Red songs could be heard from the government’s conference halls to restaurants to Karaoke houses, and even in public parks. The reappearance of the Red Classics at multiple points in China’s recent history attests to their importance as a cultural phenomenon. This project aims to critically investigate the changing significance of the red classics at each point of their (re/)emergence in three key areas: their socio-political and ideological import, their aesthetic significance and their function as mass cultural phenomenon.