December 2016

Detoxification of the body politic: post-Lin Biao language matters

中央人民广播电台有关宣传口径的一次会议精神传达记录 (1971年12月)
(click on the title to view the document)

This month I want to do a plug for the Cultural Revolution history journal Yesterday edited by He Shu in Chongqing. He is the subject of Xujun Eberlein’s chapter “Another Swimmer” in Angilee Shah’s and Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s enjoyable 2012 anthology Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land. Like its better-known Beijing counterpart, Yesterday now and then publishes not just articles but also rare documents liberated from private or public archives or otherwise preserved by chance. This Document of the Month (from the 30 November issue of Yesterday) is one example: an instruction to the CCP media from on high, spelling out in detail how politically correct Chinese was to be modified, purified, and upgraded in order to meet the demands of the post-Lin Biao age. If, by any chance, like me, you are teaching a Chinese language course where sensitizing serious students to changes in discursive conventions over time is one of your aims – say, making them understand how and why particular keywords suddenly appear to disappear from the public pronouncements of CCP Thought Leaders great and small – then you will want to add this instruction to your assigned readings.

Even if you rarely read it cover-to-cover, as a PRC historian you always want to look at Yesterday’s table of contents. The December 2016 Document of the Month would not have been the only nugget you would then already have spotted!