Pramoedya Ananta Toer and China: The Transformation of a Cultural Intellectual

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By Hong Liu on Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Published in Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University,
Apr 01, 1996

As one of the most prominent writers in Indonesia, Pramoedya Ananta Toer has been at the center of a number of valuable studies which carefully document his intellectual journey and his place in modern Indonesian cultural history.* 1 It has been generally agreed that the years between 1956 and 1959 were crucial in the evolution of Pramoedya’s cultural and political thinking. In an effort to trace the causes of this change, the existing literature focuses almost exclusively on Indonesia’s turbulent domestic political transformation and its impact on Pramoedya; very little attention has been drawn to an important external source of inspiration that facilitated Pramoedya’s shift to cultural leftism: his perceptions of China and of People’s Republic of China (PRC) literary doctrines. A. Teeuw, an authority on modern Indonesian literature is one of the few scholars who has noticed the critical connection between Pramoedya’s attitude toward the PRC and his changing views regarding Indonesia. He argues that Pramoedya’s 1956 trip to China represented a milestone: “It was only with his return from Peking that the dream of the poet was exchanged for the action of the social fighter.”2 However, Teeuw does not examine in any length why Pramoedya’s China experience was so significant and how his perception of the PRC actually affected his thinking about Indonesia. The lack of close scrutiny on Pramoedya’s complex perceptions of the PRC and their ramifications impedes a better comprehension of Pramoedya and his vital

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