Modern Kyrgyzstan emerged as a political entity in 1924 when the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (KKAO) was established as an autonomous oblast (province) under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation after the completion of the border delimitation in Central Asia (1924–1926). However, the oblast very soon was renamed Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (May 1925). The oblast was upgraded to the status of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz ASSR) on February 1, 1926 (also within the Russian Federation). Its status was further elevated on December 5, 1936 when the country became the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz SSR or in short Kirgizia (in Russian) and a full member of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
During its early days, the new republic lacked the cohesive national economic system, strong national identity, and human resources necessary for functioning as a nation-state. Therefore, the central Soviet government in Moscow initiated huge investment and technology transfers, and recruited the tens of thousands of specialists (from teachers to engineers) it felt were necessary to move to the country in the 1920s and 1930s. The consequences of the Soviet policies were two. One was rapid economic growth between 1930s and 1960s (in fact one of the highest in the USSR), including rapid industrialization and urbanization. The other was the rapid demographic change due to the massive immigration from other parts of the Soviet Union, especially from Belorussia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Kyrgyz people benefited from the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s, as the literacy rate grew from 4.7 percent in 1926 to 70–80 percent in 1936 (Soviet official estimates). The Kyrgyz SSR experienced a second wave of industrialization and mass migration in the 1940s as hundreds of factories were moved to the republic from the war zone, and tens of thousands of Volga Germans and people from the Caucasus and Crimea were deported to the Kyrgyz land. However, despite massive investments and impressive economic growth between the 1950s and 1970s, the Kyrgyz SSR remained one of the poorest republics in the term of per capita in the USSR. Economic conditions in the country deteriorated in the late 1980s due to the blunders in the Gorbachev policy of perestroika. Yet, the Kyrgyz government continued to support the preservation of the Soviet Union, although small emerging opposition groups called for secession from Moscow.
The Kyrgyz government declared its full independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union finally disintegrated. The country was renamed the Kyrgyz Republic (KR). Under the leadership of President Askar Akayev (1990–2005), the first democratically elected president in the history of Kyrgyzstan, the country became one of the most democratic states in the Central Asian region.
It has struggled to revive its crumbling economy and infrastructure and to address its chronic problems of mass poverty and unemployment. Intransigent economic problems and systemic corruption have led to two consecutive revolutions in Kyrgyzstan (in 2005 and 2010). Yet, the country has established economic, legal, and institutional foundations for the development of a modern, competitive and productive national economy as the nation still dreams of developing Kyrgyzstan to become the “Switzerland of Central Asia.”
Huiwen Helen Zhang
An expeditionary force soldier. A jungle war survivor. A patriot who traded opportunities in the United States for a tedious journey home to the newly founded People’s Republic of China. A “counterrevolutionary.” A forced laborer who spent the last third of his life translating English and Russian literature.—A poet. Careful study of Mu Dan’s (1918–1977) poetry enables us to explore a string of moments in modern China’s transformation.
Twenty-two poems by Mu Dan have been selected as a history of China from the climax of the New Culture Movement (1919) through the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1976). Fusing linguistic audacity, philosophical acumen, and historical vision, they weave a thread of themes illuminating the tortured path of a nation and an individual. Further, they span a spectrum of sentiments ranging from those of ordinary people to those of extraordinary intellectuals.
To reveal the turning points in modern China’s history, the twenty-two poems have been contextualized along two axes. A vertical axis, the thread of themes, consists of eleven motifs developed and revisited by Mu Dan from 1940 through 1976; they are: Youth, War, Disillusion, Maturity, Sacrifice, Exposure, Enlightenment, Conversion, Awakening, Anguish, and Reflection. A horizontal axis, the spectrum of sentiments, exhibits Mu Dan’s contradictory attitudes toward modern China’s transformation by identifying him with his countrymen or distancing him from them as a free spirit and cultural critic.
This conceptual framework assists in examining the interaction between history and literature. It demonstrates how modern China’s history informs, provokes, and shapes a poet whose life span coincides with it and, at the same time, how poetry can be and is being read as history itself. This reading allows more than new access to the historical events that mold a poet and his poetry. Reading poetry as history uncovers lost sentiments, struggles, observations, and critiques that advance our understanding of modern China.