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Revolutionary Appropriation of Disability in Socialist Chinese Literature and Film

Zihan Wang
p. 61-69


Literature and film in socialist China represented disabled people primarily in two ways: either as courageously contributing to socialist development in spite of physical impairments, or as recovering miraculously due to the medical practices supported by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This article seeks to provide a more nuanced understanding of these two narrative paradigms. In the first case, it examines a mutually constitutive structure of love and disability, and then demonstrates how writers maintained a certain agency under socialist censorship by deviating from this structure. In addition, this article traces the formation of miraculous recovery stories and argues that this process was a complex interaction among disability, Soviet or Chinese medical practices, Sino-Soviet relations, and the Mao cult. I will further explore why the second paradigm became more influential than the first one during the Cultural Revolution.

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Editor's notes

Manuscript submitted on 3 July 2020. Accepted on 24 February 2021.


Full text document will be published online on June 2022.


Love and disability
Miraculous recovery

First lines

Influenced by the anxiety of “The Sick Man of East Asia” (Dongya bingfu 東亞病夫), Chinese intellectuals in the Republican era (1911-1949) considered disability abnormal and associated physical or mental abnormality with the fate of the nation (Riep 2018: 408-10). They therefore constructed disability as “signs of racial degeneration and the nation’s backwardness” in the name of “science” (Xun 2002: 106-10). Although the Chinese Communists also stressed this link between individual bodies and the body politic, they greatly challenged the Republican interpretation of disability during the socialist period (1949-1978) and demonstrated a transformative power through literature and film – turning figures with impairments into productive bodies not only economically but also politically and ideologically.

Two narrative paradigms were available to achieve this transformative power: 1) the disabled characters’ continuing contribution to socialist development regardless of their disability led b...

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Bibliographical reference

Zihan Wang, « Revolutionary Appropriation of Disability in Socialist Chinese Literature and Film », China Perspectives, 2021/2 | 2021, 61-69.

Electronic reference

Zihan Wang, « Revolutionary Appropriation of Disability in Socialist Chinese Literature and Film », China Perspectives [Online], 2021/2 | 2021, Online since 01 June 2022, connection on 27 September 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Zihan Wang

Zihan Wang received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Purdue University in 2020, Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, United States ( His research interests include medical humanities and modern Chinese literature and film.

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