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A draft abstract for my Wang Meng and Liu Binyan dissertation

We’ve got presentations on our dissertations this Friday, where we’ll present the research and understanding we’ve arrived at so far to faculty staff and receive some feedback. Before that, we’ve been asked to submit abstracts for circulation around the faculty. I’m posting the draft abstract for my Wang Meng and Liu Binyan dissertation here.

I found it pretty difficult to ‘tie myself in’ to various features and strands of argument at this stage, as my opinions are not as fully-formed as the abstract here makes out. It’s also slightly nerve-wracking to submit a summary of your thinking when you’re not totally confident you’re making a sensible approach and that you’ve covered the important ground.

Draft abstract: Conflicts of Ideals and Practice: Trajectories of Wang Meng and Liu Binyan

The two writers Liu Binyan and Wang Meng have frequently been grouped together in academic literature as “fellow rightists” who were victims of the Two Hundred Flowers and following Anti-Rightist Campaign in the 1950s due to their critical approach to socialist realism. This analysis was cemented in academia by Rudolph Wagner’s Inside a Service Trade in 1992, which singles out Wang and Liu as representative intellectuals of that contradictory period of Mao’s rule.

This dissertation looks at the extent to which this grouping can be justified in terms of Liu and Wang’s political and literary trajectories in the late 1950s and the period 1979-1987. The main focus is on the development of Wang and Liu’s ideologies and relationship to the Party, and how their selection of literary techniques may have been based on their differing goals as intellectuals. A secondary focus is Wang and Liu’s relationship with two foreign influences – the Soviet Union and the USA – and how this may have shaped their intellectual trajectories.

For textual analysis, I have selected Wang’s Newcomer (1956), Bolshevik Salute (1979), The Butterfly (1980) and Ah, Mohamed Ahmed (1983), and Liu’s At the Bridge Construction Site (1956), Internal News of Our Newspaper (1956), People or Monsters (1979) and A Second Kind of Loyalty (1985) (this is a broad preliminary selection that I may reduce at later stages). By analysing these texts I hope to first compare the early similarity in the literary approach of both writers, and then contrast Liu’s later ‘sociological reportage’ with Wang’s more diverse literary mix of absurdism and stream-of-consciousness writing. I aim to confirm that Wang and Liu’s ideologies were always extremely similar, and gain some insight into the reasons why they took very different literary trajectories despite these similar starting conditions. I also look at how strongly their literary styles should be linked with influences from abroad.

The central argument that I aim to attach the content of this dissertation to is that whilst Wang and Liu’s highly similar and largely unchanging ideologies brought their political and literary trajectories together in 1956, they go on to diverge irreversibly from one another in all but ideology from that point onwards. Because of this, looking at the two writers side by side may provide some insight into the effect non-ideological choices had on the trajectories of intellectuals in general in the late 1950s and the period 1979-1987.

dissertation abstract