Creating a Literary Space to Debate the Mao Era: The fictionalisation of the Great Leap Forward in Yan Lianke’s Four Books
By Cindy M. Carter, published
There's an interesting article by Sebastian Veg in China Perspectives that unpacks Yan Lianke's novel Four Books and examines the role of contemporary Chinese fiction in promoting a broader political and historical dialogue. Well worth a read.
Since the scar literature of the early 1980s, fiction and fictionalised autobiography have played an important role in bringing to light the mass violence of the Cultural Revolution. However, these texts remained within a well-defined framework in which the political system itself was not questioned. Over the last decade, by contrast, the Chinese literary field has focused more specifically on the 1950s, with works such as Yang Xianhui’s Chronicles of Jiabiangou (Tianjin, 2002), and Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone (Hong Kong, 2008). This paper focuses on Yan Lianke’s Four Books (Hong Kong, 2010), a full-fledged fictionalisation in a fantastic mode of the famine of the Great Leap Forward in a village on the Yellow River. Considering literature in the context of theories of the public sphere, it suggests that Yan’s book aims to broaden decisively the discussion on certain previously out-of-bounds aspects of the Mao era, an aim only partially thwarted by its failure to be published within mainland China. Four Books, like Yang Jisheng and Yang Xianhui’s works, thus represents an attempt to call into question the original legitimacy of the PRC polity and to create debate within the Chinese-speaking public sphere on the foundations of the current regime.