Reading in the Cultural Revolution
Even during the Cultural Revolution,reading remained a primarily urban phenomenon but it was carried (literally) to the countryside, as well. Dai Sijie’s story of Balzac and the Little Seamstress (Dai 2000) gives one fictionalized impression of a phenomenon frequently mentioned in oral history reports: rusticated youths and intellectuals were reading, even in the countryside, and some of them would be teaching what they read, too, to the peasants.
There is visual testimony to support this: documentary photographs as well as fictional propaganda material published all throughout the Cultural Revolution would show young and old joining together, reading—except that it is usually Mao’s works, not Tolstoy or Balzac which they are reading.
In one of these images, we see an old man teaching rusticated youths (ill. II.1), in another, we see two rusticated youths, taking a break from their hard work, reading one book together (ill. II.2). To what extent this type of reading was actually taking place and was extended to readings other than Mao, thus opening possibilities for uneducated people to get to know old and translated literature themselves, remains to be further investigated, however (Han 2008).