This essay explores Fu Lei's Family Letters, 1954–1966 (1981) as an accidental then aborted künstlerroman for the newly established People's Republic of China. It suggests that Fu's private epistolary transformation of the bildungsroman is an important undercurrent of Chinese socialist literature and a telling participation in the utopian historical-aesthetic project of socialist subject formation. Reading the Family Letters as a coincidental socialist bildungsroman allows us to see Fu's “heart and mind's journey” in the early decades of the People's Republic, challenging the dichotomous framework with which the relationship between the Chinese state and its intellectuals is often understood. More importantly, it allows insights into Fu's vision of the artistic bildung and its implication for a New China. Through Fu's narrative preoccupation with Jean-Christophe, and in contrast to the officially orchestrated New Folk Songs movement (1958), this understanding of the correspondence as a Romantic bildungsroman with two protagonists probes the question of the possibilities of a socialist developmental narrative, of agency and participation in the emergence of new subjectivity, and of the role of the artist in New China.

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