After the Sun: Slow Hope? Rethinking Continuous Crisis Through China’s Revolutions
Barbara Mittler – 2023
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Chinese artists and intellectuals noticed that China was sinking into deep darkness. Faced with the country’s weakness, manifested in losses in the opium wars and even against its small neighbor, Japan, writers, poets, and cartoonists were reflecting on the best way to save China. One character who promised to bring back the light was Mao Zedong. During his lifetime, he was hailed as “The sun that never sets 永远不落的太阳,” an epithet that continues to be evoked to this day, both in a positive and in negative sense—indeed it has become an important artistic trope. In this paper, I consider the legacy of this trope as the most important left-wing extremist symbol or propageme. Considering how it has been used by supporters as well as critics, I will consider the epistemic violence related to the religious extremism with which it was propagated. The verve with which it was disseminated during the heydays of Maoism explains some of its beguiling as well as traumatic effects. In considering artistic discourses during the long Chinese twentieth century—musical, literary and visual, popular, and elitist—this paper is an attempt to understand the power of left-wing extremism, or, in other words, the Maoist specter. It can be seen as indicating continuous crisis while at the same time continually instigating the making of ever new and utopian dreams—slow hope.