Running Away From Mao-ti in Contemporary China

Politics of Writing:” Running Away From Mao-ti in Contemporary China


Mao-ti, or Mao-style language, was coined by literary critic Li Tuo in his 1998 article about Wang Zengqi. Mo Yan’s winning of novel prize leads to a discussion among U.S.-based scholars about Mo Yan’s language in which his habitual use of Mao-ti is lamented as a symptom of Chinese contemporary writers’ diseased and yet inevitable inheritance of the aesthetic ideologies of Socialist China. This paper seeks to respond to this lament by examining the efforts of Jia Pingwa and Han Shaogong in Old Furnace (2011) and Ma Qiao Dictionary (1995), which strive to achieve a different voice through the rejection of what is deeply rooted on the inside, that is, Mao-ti.

This paper anchors in the contexutalization and analysis of language. Highlighting the use of dialect in both novels, I trace the history of discussing and writing in term fangyan tuyu (dialect and rural vernacular) in Socialist China: dialect, along with its connotation as the everyday speech of the peasants, was incorporated into and strived to be part of the Mao language system. In the case of Old Furnace and Ma Qiao Dictionary, I contend that, instead of comfortably weaving Mao language into the narrative of China’s revolutionary past, Han and Jia distrust the habitual legitimacy of Maoist jargon and run away from Mao-ti through the deconstruction of it as a linguistic event.



  • East Asian Studies