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four Crisis and Response The Woxin changdan Fever of the Early 1960s in the people’s republic of china, numerous intellectuals, including some of China’s most prominent literary figures, gave serious attention to the story of Goujian, beginning for the most part around 1960.1 In the aftermath of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Lushan Conference, the rift with the Soviet Union, and in the latter phases of the Great Leap Forward and accompanying famine—all events of the late 1950s and early 1960s— the Wu-Yue conflict and Goujian’s part in it became for a few years a major preoccupation of Chinese writers.2 The well-known historian Wu Han and others introduced the story in newspapers, magazines, and short books, calling attention in particular to the themes of “self-reliance” (zili gengsheng) and “working hard to strengthen the country” (fafen tuqiang), both much emphasized at the time by the central leadership of the party.3 The longtime minister of culture Mao Dun (1896–1981), who published a little book on the Goujian story in 1962 (it first appeared in article form in late 1961), asserted that from late 1960 through the spring of 1961 theaters and acting groups all over the country put on performances on the woxin changdan theme.4 Also at this time Cao Yu (1910–1996), widely viewed as China’s leading playwright of the twentieth century, ventured for the first time into historical drama with a five-act play on the story entitled The Gall and the Sword (Dan jian pian). The play was first performed in Beijing in 1961, when Cao Yu was at the height of his prestige.5 1 3 6 How do we account for this upsurge of interest in the Goujian story, especially given the sharply diªerent circumstances of mainland China as compared to Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan? One broad factor that certainly played an important part was the tendency of many playwrights, in the aftermath of the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957 and 1958, to reach back into the past for thematic material. The Anti-Rightist Campaign, which Mao Zedong launched in June 1957 in response to the unanticipated outpouring of criticism of the Communist Party during the Hundred Flowers Movement of 1956 and 1957, had traumatized intellectuals, and in light of the severe criticism leveled during the campaign against plays on contemporary themes, it often seemed safer for authors to refocus their eªorts on historical subject matter.6 This created another set of problems, however, since it necessarily involved the extensive use of material from a “feudal” past that the Communists had tried hard to put behind them and did not wish to see resurrected . The shift toward historical drama therefore resulted in an extended— and highly contentious—debate in theatrical and historical circles on the relationship between history and historical drama and the whole involved question of how the past could be made to serve the present.7 the groundswell of operas on the goujian story (1960–1961) This historical turn in the world of Chinese theater was an important precondition for the increased attention given to the Goujian story. It was not, however, su‹cient. The content of the story, if it was to invite special notice , had to relate in meaningful ways to what was going on at the time. As one writer in the early 1960s put it: Because of diªerences in the political tasks faced, certain types of historical dramas are relatively popular at certain times. For example, in the initial days after the country’s liberation, Li Zicheng Enters the Capital (Chuang wang ru jing), by warning people not to get carried away with success, had great educational value;* during the Resist-America AidKorea period, The General and the Prime Minister Make Peace (Jiang xiang t h e w o x i n c h a n g d a n f e v e r o f t h e 1 9 6 0 s 1 3 7 *The army of the late Ming rebel leader Li Zicheng—he styled himself the “the dashing king” (Chuang wang)—occupied Beijing in April 1644. Li declared the founding of a new dynasty, but by early June he had fled the capital under pressure from the combined forces of Wu Sangui and the invading Manchus, and a new Manchu emperor was installed on the Chinese throne. he) showed us how to become more eªectively united...


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