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Imagining the New Socialist Child: The Cultural Afterlife of the Child Martyr Wang Erxiao


Recent scholarship in modern Chinese studies has established the centrality of the figure of the child in modern configurations of nationhood. Yet very few studies have focused on the motif of child martyrdom and its place within Chinese socialist culture. By exploring the cultural afterlife of the socialist martyr Wang Erxiao in mid-twentieth-century China, this article shows how the heroic sacrificial death of the boy both powered and imperiled the Communist-led revolution and the construction of a new, socialist society. The author argues that, on the one hand, the figure of the socialist child martyr embodied the desire for the child to play a more active role in the Communist revolution and in the creation of a socialist utopia. On the other hand, in lionizing the heroic death of the child—the so-called revolutionary successor—stories like Wang Erxiao’s also posed an existential threat to the socialist community and brought to the fore tensions intrinsic to politicizing and aestheticizing the death of a child. By examining the relationship between children, violence, and sacrificial death, this article highlights the desires and anxieties embedded within the socialist project to create an image of the “new child.” Keywords: child martyrdom, Wang Erxiao, War of Resistance against Japan, socialist literature, Boy Scouts, Alain Badiou

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