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Revolutionary Trauma and Reconfigured Identities: Representing the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Scar Literature Open Access


Other title
Scar literature
Cultural Revolution
Revolutionary trauma
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Yang, Min
Supervisor and department
Fried, Daniel (Comparative Literature)
Examining committee member and department
Verdicchio, Massimo (Comparative Literature)
Lin, Jenn-Shann (East Asian Studies)
Kuiken, Donald (Pyschology)
Sywenky, Irene (Comparative Literature)
Comparative Literature

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
While a number of studies have examined the scar literature movement (1977-1983), no study has thoroughly explored the psychological function of the scar metaphor, the emotional catharsis (or so called “qinsu shi”) and the “bright tails” (the so-called “guangming de weiba”) — the key paradigm of scar stories in most Chinese people’s expression and assimilation of the trauma wrought by the Cultural Revolution. Through examining psychological mechanisms of metaphorical thinking, identification, and guilt or shame, which were articulated in scar stories, this dissertation attempts to shed new light on how some Chinese people who went through personal afflictions during the Cultural Revolution worked through their memories and reconstructed their social identity after Mao. I will demonstrate that the key paradigm of scar literature emerged when some Chinese people (writers, readers, and protagonists) both confronted and denied a particular type of trauma, referred to here as revolutionary trauma, in interaction with a radical change in communist ideologies. I will place scar literature within the dynamics by which the Cultural Revolution was represented in Chinese culture to demonstrate: (1) how the denial of traumatic memories in the scar period became a foundation for interpreting personal and national trauma, and (2) how this denial impacted, and arguably reconstructed, Chinese cultural identity during socialist modernization in the 1980s and socialist commercialism in the 1990s. The scar literature movement was the first and also the largest cultural and literary movement to enunciate the trauma of the Cultural Revolution in Chinese society. Although the Cultural Revolution has been consistently criticized in political documents and literature, it gradually lost its empirical content, namely, its actual impact on both the social system and Chinese individuals. Though frequently mentioned, it nonetheless has been converted into a signifier without concrete historical reference. It is forgotten in its frequent, if superficial, remembering. However, I believe that to understand Chinese collective unconscious today we must understand how this trauma was mediated, recognized, and reconstructed in the Chinese people’s collective voice.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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