2019 Sydney Chinese Studies Seminar Series | Revolutionary Optimism in 1950s Chinese Culture
2019 Sydney Chinese Studies Seminar Series
Organised by the Department of Chinese Studies in collaboration with the China Studies Centre ‘Language, Literature, Culture and Education’ Research Cluster
Revolutionary Optimism in 1950s Chinese Culture
Professor Wendy Larson, Sydney China Distinguished Fellow
When Chinese revolutionary culture reached its zenith in the 1950s and 1960s, revolutionary optimism became a strongly encouraged emotional perspective, attitude, and expression. It was touted through literature, film, images, and virtually every aspect of daily life. Unhappiness, especially if publicly expressed, signaled personal and social dysfunction, which could easily become mental illness in need of a cure. However, the valorizing of happiness took place with equal fervency in the United States, where Émile Coué brought his theory of optimistic autosuggestion, inspiring influential figures such as Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and Robert H. Schuller. Both countries had similar—if not identical—strategic reasons for promoting, building, and constructing happiness as the most acceptable public emotion. Emerging from the Enlightenment, socialism and capitalism embodied the modern ideals of progress and improvement characteristic of scientific rationalism, which drove their embrace of happiness as the most effective and efficient emotional state.
About the speaker
Professor Wendy Larson is a professor emerita of East Asian languages and literature at the University of Oregon. Her research monographs include Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture (Cambria 2017); From Ah Q to Lei Feng: Freud and Revolutionary Spirit in 20th Century China (Stanford UP 2009); Women and Writing in Modern China (Stanford UP 1998); and Literary Authority and the Chinese Writer: Ambivalence and Autobiography (Duke UP 1991). Her present research project compares cultural optimism under capitalism and socialism, with a focus on China and the West.
As part of the Sydney China Visitors program, Professor Larson is the 2019 Sydney China Distinguished Fellow in the Department of Chinese Studies from 5–31 August.
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