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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Donal Carbaugh

Second Advisor

Benjamin Bailey

Third Advisor

Zhongwei Shen

Subject Categories



Yiku sitian” is a political movement prevalent in P. R. China in the 1960s and 1970s. It means, literally, to “recall bitterness” and to “reflect on sweetness”. It identifies a particular type of social practice commonly enacted publicly and privately for people to recall how “bitter” life was in “jiu shehui” (the old society) and how “sweet” life was in “xin shehui” (the new society). This study examines “yiku sitian” as a cultural and communicational practice. Its theory and methodology draw upon the ethnography of communication, cultural terms for talk, and cultural discourse analysis. The study is guided by the following two questions: How can we understand “yiku sitian” as a cultural and communicative practice? What cultural discourse is actively associated with this practice? Descriptive analyses discover the identification of “yiku sitian” as a communicative act, event, and style; as a cultural scene complete with its own sequential structure; as given shape through personal narratives; and as deep messages about the expressive mode, degree of structuring, tone, and efficaciousness that are in use in this practice. Interpretive findings include eleven semantic dimensions that are active in the system of cultural meanings of “jiu shehui” vs. “xin shehui”; and two sets of cultural premises defining appropriate ways of being, relating, acting, feeling, and political positioning from both orthodox and alternative perspectives. The former view placed people into different categories of “jieji” (class) and related them with each other in “jieji guanxi” (class relationship) as either “jieji dixiong” (class brothers) or “jieji diren” (class enemies). “Jieji jiaoyu” (class education) was conducted to cultivate “jieji ganqing” (class feelings) of “aizeng fenming” (love and hate clearly demarcated). The latter view depicted Chinese people as actually forced into participating in various “jieji douzheng” (class struggles) and coping passively with their assigned ways of being, acting, relating, feeling and political positioning in the 1960s and 1970s. This study is concluded with examination of Lei Feng, a nationally famous “yiku sitian” role model in the 1960s and analysis of his “yiku sitian baogao” (yiku sitian public speech) as a demonstration of the strength of this communication practice.


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