The Maoist Yeti

Sigrid Schmalzer. The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth Century China. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

The main interest to Magonia readers in this book is likely to be the impressive chapter on the yeren, the Chinese wild man and its cultural significance in late Maoist and post-Maoist China, that of human beings stripped of the accoutrements of civilisation, and as of a symbol of the wild itself. This wildness is not just an environmental wildness, but a kind of ideological wildness, a symbol of mystery and elusiveness. The yeren hunters themselves can, like their western counterparts, be symbols of the rejection of society and its ties. (a very profound idea in the socialist society which saw people as existing within a very tight social nexus).

There is much more in this book, about the roles of popular and elite science, the ambiguous relationship between the communist elites and the masses which they simultaneous valorised as heroic workers and peasants and despised for their backwardness and superstition, the meanings of archaeology and history, the power of ideology in science etc. By looking at these roles in an - to westerner's - unfamiliar society we can see something of our own society reflected back. -- Peter Rogerson

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