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Reviewed by:
  • Creating the “New Man”: From Enlightenment Ideals to Socialist Realities
  • Hua-yu Li
Yinghong Cheng, Creating the “New Man”: From Enlightenment Ideals to Socialist Realities. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009. 265 pp. $60.00.

In this ambitious undertaking, Yinghong Cheng sets out to examine three social-engineered cases of creating the “New Man” in the former Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin and Iosif Stalin, in Mao Zedong’s China, and in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. By linking such attempts with the ideals rooted in the European Enlightenment tradition and in a global context of twentieth-century history, Cheng elevates our understanding of Communist ideological practice.

Cheng addresses three main questions. What are the intellectual roots of the new-man concept? How was this idealistic and utopian goal linked to specific political and economic programs? How do the policies of these particular regimes, based as they are on universal Communist ideology, reflect national and cultural traditions? To answer these questions, Cheng provides three case studies dealing with the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. He relies mostly on secondary materials for the Soviet Union and Cuba, and original and secondary sources for China. Cheng makes his arguments and analysis convincingly and carefully.

Aside from the introduction and conclusion, the book consists of four chapters. In chapter 1, Cheng traces the linkages between Enlightenment ideals and Karl Marx’s vision of the “New Man,” which the book then connects with the Soviet leaders’ programs and practices. The leaders of the Soviet Union believed they could reshape the worldview of their party members and citizens and also remold their behavior, thereby creating new kinds of party members and citizens who would not only support the new regime but also work hard for it. To this end, the party-school system was established to train the future leaders of the regime with the proper ideology. Young Soviet citizens were put through political socialization within such newly established organizations as the Young Pioneers and the Communist Youth League. To remold the behavior of citizens, role models of the Soviet “New Man” were created for the whole society to follow (pp. 33–37). The fever of creating the “New Man” who would work hard and selflessly for the socialist state gradually faded away after the 1940s. In its place, material incentives were put in place to motivate Soviet citizens to work hard. By the 1960s, as young Soviet citizens had greater access to the West and could learn how their counterparts there lived, individualism began to spread into the Soviet Union. [End Page 128]

Chapter 2, concerning China, is the longest chapter in the book. Cheng, who was born and raised in China, is in a strong position to provide a more detailed discussion of it. Although he acknowledges that China learned from the Soviet Union and adopted some features of Soviet practice, he argues that China “promoted its own type of ‘New Man’” (p. 48). Cheng’s statement is partly correct because China under Mao engaged in a more intensive program of remolding human behavior than did the Soviet Union. By launching numerous political and reform campaigns and creating an endless string of role models, China was constantly on the move. The driving force behind these efforts was Mao’s determination to prevent what he saw as “revisionism” from taking root in China as it had (he believed) in the Soviet Union.

In chapter 3, Cheng studies the Cuban experience. Compared with the USSR and China, Cuba had a shorter period in which to try to create the “New Man.” The process began in the 1960s after the Cuban revolution and ended in 1970 as Castro’s “Revolutionary Offensive” failed.

In chapter 4, Cheng examines the global impact of creating the “New Man” in the former Soviet-bloc countries and in some Third World countries. One might question Cheng’s decision to combine his studies of the bloc countries and developing countries. Although the former East-bloc countries did have diverse cultures and national histories, they generally followed the practices implemented in the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia and Albania are the only two major exceptions.

Unfortunately for the leaders under study, their social...


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pp. 128-129
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