ABSTRACT

The arrest of the Gang of Four on 6 October 1976 officially brought an end to China’s broadly defined Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and eventually to the Maoist era (inaugurated on 1 October 1949, when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had been founded). 2 In 1978, Deng Xiaoping’s newly consolidated socialist government launched a series of economic and cultural reforms, ushering China into the age of post-Mao reformism. In the initial stage of transformation, the role of literature was double-edged: It pioneered the creation of a public space curtailed during the previous era of socialism, but also implicitly prescribed new boundaries for literary production. Closely linked with other social forces, literature, the importance of which had been firmly established in the Maoist era, remained a powerful and influential public discourse. It played a significant role in meeting and orienting social consciousness toward the new needs of a decentralised society, in which the critique of and reflection on the previous political regime and its ideologies become possible. But, on the other hand, even though the new literary public differentiated itself from the previous one by loosening its bonds with the state, the function of literature as both the representation of and engagement with centralised social and political realities delimited by the dominant state ideology was still regarded as the most legitimate ideal for literature and thus was strongly endorsed by existing social and literary institutions. 3