The music of the machine : A Ying, international constructivism, and sonic modernity in Chinese revolutionary literature

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This essay seeks to recover the attempts of the left-wing activists around the 1920s Sun Society (Taiyang she) to articulate a vision of proletarian modernity based on the aesthetic potential of the machine. They did so as a result of a series of theoretical encounters with the ideas of Soviet constructivists that were largely mediated by the Japanese literary theorist Kurahara Korehito and the project of “new realism” (xin xieshizhuyi). The essay demonstrates that “new realism” functioned as a cipher for Soviet constructivism as it moved across the proletarian literary movements of Japan and China. In response to these theoretical possibilities, Chinese writers, critics, and filmmakers sought to inscribe the aesthetic possibilities of the machine in their cultural practice, a project in which A Ying assumed a leading role. They did so with a particular investment in the sonic dimensions of machine production, consisting of the sounds of the modern factory and its proletarian subjects. Their attempts to find a cultural form adequate to machine production are explored with reference to the prose work of Yang Cunren and the canonical film New Woman (Xin nüxing). By attending to these legacies, this essay demonstrates a series of ignored theoretical encounters across different sites of left-wing cultural production and draws our attention to the powerful appeal of a cultural language of proletarian modernity at a crucial historical moment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-201
Number of pages32
JournalModern Chinese Literature and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • A Ying
  • Sun Society
  • Kurahara Korehito
  • constructivism
  • machine aesthetics


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