Implementation of Mao Zedong's Yan'an “Talks” in the Subei Base Area: The Chen Dengke “Phenomenon”

Robert John Irving

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Mao Zedong’s 1942 “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art” were officially established as the foundation of national policy on culture after the founding of the People’s Republic, but from the very outset they had direct implications for writers and artists in the Communist base areas of the time. As a case study of the implementation of the spirit of Mao’s “Talks” prior to 1949, this paper will discuss how illiterate peasant soldier Chen Dengke (1919–98) was educated by Party cultural cadres in the North Jiangsu (Subei) Base Area, enabling him within the space of just four years to produce a novella and a novel. In order to critically examine the auto/biographical and “slice of life” writings on which this paper relies, brief discussion will be provided of temporal considerations and genre boundaries of this class of writing in the context of the ever-changing political orthodoxy with which writers were required to comply during the Maoist period. The creation of what has been called the Chen Dengke “phenomenon” is not only a fascinating story, but also illustrates the operation of Communist Party cultural policy during the Sino-Japanese and Civil Wars.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-376
Number of pages17
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • Chen Dengke
  • Cultural politics
  • Contemporary Chinese literature
  • Mao Zedong Yan'an Talks

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