Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

"I want to fly high": Chinese Aspirations in the 1980s

By Helen Wang, published

Chinese Aspirations in the 1980s Workshop, at the Australian Centre on China in the World, the Australian National University, 18-19 February 2013.

In 1980, Zhang Meitong wrote a poem entitled "New Eighties Generation" [bashiniandai de xinyibei] proclaiming that "glory" belonged to this new generation.His poem was adapted into the lyrics of a popular song "Young Friends Come Together" [nianqing de pengyou lai xianghui] which encapsulated the optimism of the Chinese people during the 1980s, a period of dynamic transformation. With fewer restrictions on personal behaviour and a gradual betterment of livelihood, many people explored new possibilities in their everyday lives with enthusiasm. As eighties heartthrob Fei Xiang sang: "I want to fly high" [wo yao gaofei].

The history of everyday life, according to German historian Alf Lüdtke, aims to describe "... people's loves and hates, their quarrels and cooperation, memories, anxieties, [and] their hopes for the future" (1995: 3). This workshop examines the fascinating evolutions in Chinese life as people navigated a new, post-Maoist world, and seeks to understand the varied hopes and aspirations of a diverse Chinese society in the decade of the 1980s. For many, the post-Maoist decade meant more access to material goods and services, more opportunities to acquire knowledge of the outside world, and more leisure time. New ideas from different cultures and intellectual traditions jostled against each other on bookshop stands, allowing new horizons of imagination not only to intellectuals but to the public at large.

This workshop will examine the aspirations of various groups of the Chinese public throughout the 1980s, revealing vitality, diversity, contradictions, evolutions, regressions, and ambivalences. Proposals for papers concerned with changing aesthetic sensibilities, new relationships with the divine, imaginings at the dawn of the Chinese space age, the fascination with personal development, sports and body training, and the world of fashion have already been received. We extend an invitation to scholars who wish to share their research on all aspects of the culture of the 1980s, especially those who problematize existing narratives and reveal hidden experiences and aspirations.

Please email your paper title and abstract to Sue Chen at by 1 November 2012. Some funding for travel and accommodation may be available.


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