Linguistic Engineering: Language and Politics in Mao's China
- About the Book
When Mao and the Chinese Communist Party won power in 1949, they were determined to create new, revolutionary human beings. Their most precise instrument of ideological transformation was a massive program of linguistic engineering. They taught everyone a new political vocabulary, gave old words new meanings, converted traditional terms to revolutionary purposes, suppressed words that expressed “incorrect” thought, and required the whole population to recite slogans, stock phrases, and scripts that gave “correct” linguistic form to “correct” thought. They assumed that constant repetition would cause the revolutionary formulae to penetrate people's minds, engendering revolutionary beliefs and values.
In an introductory chapter, Dr. Ji assesses the potential of linguistic engineering by examining research on the relationship between language and thought. In subsequent chapters, she traces the origins of linguistic engineering in China, describes its development during the early years of communist rule, then explores in detail the unprecedented manipulation of language during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976. Along the way, she analyzes the forms of linguistic engineering associated with land reform, class struggle, personal relationships, the Great Leap Forward, Mao-worship, Red Guard activism, revolutionary violence, Public Criticism Meetings, the model revolutionary operas, and foreign language teaching. She also reinterprets Mao’s strategy during the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, showing how he manipulated exegetical principles and contexts of judgment to “frame” his alleged opponents. The work concludes with an assessment of the successes and failures of linguistic engineering and an account of how the Chinese Communist Party relaxed its control of language after Mao's death.