Toward a new leftist ecocriticism in postsocialist China : reading the "Poetry of migrant workers" as ecopoetry

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In his recent English book. The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity, Wang Hui, perhaps the most important New Left thinker in China today, devotes an entire chapter to the memory of Xiao Liangzhong, a young anthropologist who dedicated his life to the environmental protection of the Jinsha River, one of the Yangtze’s most important tributaries.Wang recollects Xiao’s persistent effort to fight the state plan of building two hydroelectric dams at Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao xia), one of the deepest gorges in China, located about twenty miles downstream of the magnificent bend of the Jinsha River known as the “First Bend of the Yangtze” (Changji- ang diyi wan). Together with Shangri-La and the ancient Lijiang City, the gorge and the bend form an area known to the world for its gorgeous natural scenery, rich ecological diversity, and colorful ethnic cultures. Thanks to the concerted efforts of many environmental protectionists, the Chinese government finally gave up the plan. Wang’s remembrance of Xiao’s wholehearted involvement and his leading role in the anti-Tiger Leaping Gorge Dam movement in the last few years of his life signifies a concern on the part of the New Left with grave ecological problems in China. However, despite sporadic displays of such ecological concern, the New Left does not seem to have very strong ties with the burgeoning environmentalism represented by activists such as Liang Congjie, Yang Dongping, and Zheng Yefu. The relationship between the two parties in contemporary China is, at best, lukewarm. In his brief survey of the Chinese Left today, Wang Sirui implies that environmentalism can be loosely classified as a branch of the New Left defined in a broad sense. But while both denounce developmentalism and consumerism, he continues, the environmentalists differ from the New Leftists in their support for liberalism and pluralism. Wang Sirui brings into view the tenuousness of the link between these two important critical discourses and points up the importance of exploring in a more nuanced manner their relationship. As two of the most dynamic critical discourses in contemporary China, the New Left and ecocriticism can, in my view, engage with each other much more closely. In this essay, I examine the sociohistorical conditions under which a more rigorous engagement may emerge and explore the ways it may constructively take place. Through an investigation of the poetry of migrant workers (dadong shige) as a type of literature where “lower literature” (diceng wenxue) and ecopoetry intersect, I argue that, with its unremitting critique of global capitalism as well as bureaucratic socialism, widely seen as two of the main institutional causes of the ecological crisis in postsocialist China, the New Left can lend its critical edge to ecocriticism and thereby help to effect significant social change.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChina and new left visions: Political and cultural interventions
PublisherLexington Books
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780739165164
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


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