Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 22: China’s self-help industry: American(ized) life advice in China
During the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to monopolize the field of life advice in order to ensure that people’s imagination, values and aspirations would be wholly socialist. The Party disseminated an official literature on how a good socialist was supposed to live. Socialist life advice was meant to replace the life advice of China’s religious and philosophical traditions. Meanwhile, capitalist ideology was to be blocked out completely. To the Maoists, American self-help books – from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) to Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) – were squarely in the capitalist category. Hence they were banned. When Deng’s reformist faction gradually opened China’s economy and society, the Party’s attempt to monopolize life advice quickly faded. The destruction of the Cultural Revolution, followed by the implosion of Maoist socialism, left an ideological and spiritual hole in the heart of Chinese culture (Bell 2008; Gittings 2005). The public sphere, though still strictly monitored by the Party-state, opened up to alternative, non-socialist sources of life advice once again. Confucianism resurfaced in the 1990s and early 2000s (Bell 2008; Billioud and Thoraval 2008, 2009; Yang 2007). Further diversifying the field of life advice were the new international competitors carried in by the global popular culture that began flooding China.
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