The Heart of the Party: Language, Gender, and Power in Tracks in the Snowy Forest

By Krista Van Fleit Hang

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 21, no. 1 (Spring 2009), pp. 72-101

This essay examines the popular novel in Maoist China by analyzing the intersection of language, gender, and power in Qu Bo’s Tracks in the Snowy Forest, first published in 1957. Van Fleit Hang argues that by inserting a revolutionary story into the framework of a pre-revolutionary popular novel both forms are productively changed. The novel uses revolutionary language to impart lessons to its readers, and at times the clash between revolutionary and popular discourse causes tensions in the novel. For example, we see modern communist heroes using logic to defeat irrational, demonic villains, or policy proclamations interfering with the excitement of an action scene. This tension between the two narrative modes is then solved with the insertion of a female character who is the only person able to impart revolutionary lessons to the people the soldiers meet in their adventures, thus making her a bridge between the Communist Party and the people. Attention to the construction of gender in the novel and the extent to which gender identity affects both access to power through speech and power to move the masses on a different, nonverbal, level, allows for a new interpretation of the construction of gender in the Mao era. The essay develops a new reading of the complexities of literary production in the Maoist period, concluding that Tracks in the Snowy Forest portrays an ideal Communist Party that can accommodate the three qualities of heroism, authority, and love, though the emphasis on love and healing will fade away with the imperative for continuous revolution in the later Maoist period.