Revolutionary Spirits: Typescript Books, DIY Zines, and Other Forms of Unsanctioned Publishing in Maoist and Post-Mao China

Date: 22 July 2019
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: UVA Special Collections
Lecturer: Thomas S. Mullaney - Professor of Chinese History, Stanford University

During China’s Maoist period (1949–1976), an unrelenting series of sociopolitical and economic campaigns placed an unprecedented burden on Chinese clerks and typists, who found themselves tasked with the production of economic reports and low-run mimeographed materials for use in the ubiquitous “study sessions” taking place in work units across the country. So heavy was the burden on Chinese typists, that some work units resorted to outsourcing jobs to non-official “type-and-copy shops (dazi tengxieshe),” a phenomenon which raised concerns within the fledgling Communist state. With the proliferation of small-scale, independently operated typing shops, the Party-state’s monopoly over the means of technolinguistic production was compromised, insofar as the same collection of typewriters, carbon paper, and mimeograph machines used to print and distribute state-commissioned speech transcripts, political study guides, and statistics, was also being used to run a small-scale grey market publishing industry. Occupying the vast terrain between handwriting and the printing press, type-and-mimeograph printing was often used to produce entire books, known as dayinben (“typed and mimeographed editions”) — a mode of publication so prevalent that the term was later repurposed in the computer age as the Chinese translation of “to print out” (dayin) and “laser printer” (jiguang dayinji).

Inspired by Lisa Gitelman’s work on the typescript book, as well as my own research in the history of Chinese typewriting, this talk charts out the hitherto unexamined underground press and publication industry in Mao-era China that took shape around Chinese typewriters, stencils, edged tools, and mimeograph machines. At one end of the spectrum, this underground press diverges from common assumptions and expectations regarding samizdat in the Soviet context, with many such underground or unofficial presses dedicating themselves to the production of orthodox texts. In a profound act of devotion, for example, members of the “Yunnan University Mao Zedong-ism Artillery Regiment Foreign Language Division Propaganda Group” typed-and-mimeographed Mao’s speeches delivered during the years 1957 and 1958, copied from the People’s Daily, the China Youth Daily (Zhongguo qingnian), the New China Bimonthly (Xinhua banyuekan), Henan Daily (Henan ribao), and others. Extending to over 280,000 characters in length, with page after page of densely packed typewritten text, this work would have taken between 100 and 200 hours—or four to eight full days—to type and mimeograph. In other ways, this emerging underground press elicits meaningful comparisons with the history of dissident publications in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

A National Endowment for the Humanities-Global Book Histories Initiative Lecture.