By Jesús R. Velasco
The following are mostly a series of questions for which I have no answers. The answers would require a high degree of specialization in Chinese, the printing press in revolutionary China, and the industries of translation in revolutionary China. I know nothing about all that. And yet, they seem crucial to understand the revolutionary movement and the expansion of the idea of insurrection and revolution beyond revolutionary China.
The main question can be formulated more or less in the following way: to what extent the revolution happens at the level of the book industry, the history of the book, and, of course, the organization of networks and workshops of translation. To what extent, also, does the insurrection work at the symbolic level of the object book, its possession, and its exhibition. To what extent, the permanence of revolution consists in the creation and deployment of a library of both books and periodical publications, and an archive. I am not talking here only about reading the sources, but rather at the level of the production of sources —and the processes of transformation of texts, addresses, theoretical accounts, scientific discovery, or anthologization of the sources to be produced and made present by a revolutionary or insurrect industry of books.
In 1952, the Chinese state founded a publishing agency, the Foreign Language Press, in charge of translating the revolution, which included texts by chairman Mao, and other founding texts on Marxism-leninism. The publishing agency seems to have been modeled on Mir editions, created in 1946 by Stalin in the Soviet Union. Both FLP and Mir had the same mission of disseminating texts in Russian and in Chinese across the globe.
The work of FLP was indeed important to the dissemination of Mao’s “Selected Works”, which were already published in twelve languages (including French, Spanish, English, or German) before October 1968. Although the publication includes texts from 1926 onwards, the texts, as they appear in the collection of Selected Works exhibit a high degree of transformation, as Stuart Schram declared in his first book on Mao published in 1966. Likewise, because the translations were undertaken by a complex workshop of scholars (maybe a large network beyond the Chinese geography), they are sometimes difficult to read. Some of the works contained in the Selected Works were translated from German into French, or from Russian into Spanish, etc.
Shorter works by Mao were also disseminated by the Beijing Review, known in France as Pékin Information. In his article of 1969, Lazar Focsaneau gives an idea of what Pékin Information had published until the fall of 1968, in order to make a short catalogue of what had been available to French readers —and we could only guess he was wondering what the Maos in France had read or were reading, or, at any rate, was available for them to read.
The early Selected Works in four volumes, printed, translated and disseminated by the Chinese state, were already an important work of literary engineering, a real challenge to philologists, because of the many new interventions made (the very edition states) by the author himself. They are as well a challenge because of the translations themselves, sometimes based on translations rather than on the originals.
A selection of the four volumes of Selected Works constituted as well one of the most printed books in the history of the printing press —the so called Mao’s Little Red Book or Quotations of Chairman Mao. It contains over 400 quotations extracted from the first four volumes, and then submitted to a new process of transformation of the original texts.
The Red Book was a book not only to be read, even aloud, in specific circumstances. It was, indeed, one of the books to be read aloud during the cultural revolution, in combination with other selected texts from Mao’s selected works (a selection that took place at the heart of the bibliographic industry of the revolution itself). The Red Book was also a book to be carried in one’s pocket. Every member of the party had to own and carry their own.
It is the portability of the maoist archive what is necessary to underscore here. And furthermore, a portability that was, in fact, worn —one could see the book as a wearable, as an immediate reference for the right self-examination.
Maoists in other places during the sixties and, especially, the seventies, carried their own translation of the book, showing the top of the red binding in the pocket of their jackets, and it became in places like Spain and France a sign of recognition —or, in the Spanish case, a sign of difference in relation, for instance, with marxist-leninists, trotskyists, or early Euro-communists.
What seems interesting is that maoist theory and practice of revolution seems to be linked, as well, to a certain industry that involves very different processes of production, including compilation, critique of the sources, translation, and production of books and newspapers printed by the millions in a myriad languages across continents. This is maybe as well the revolution.