Rethinking Cultural Revolution Culture


Internationales Wissenschaftsforum Heidelberg 22.-24. 2. 2001

It is a common assumption that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was a period of unprecedented cultural stagnation. 8 so-called model works (yangbanxi) are taken as paradigmatic for all there was of Cultural Revolution Culture. They are condemned as an aberration in terms of aesthetic and cultural development. And yet, the idea that the Cultural Revolution was simply an atypical phase of political extremism, distinct from the years before and after this "unfortunate period," is misleading, most certainly as concerns artistic production.

The notion that there was nothing but the 8 model works in Cultural Revolution Culture is mistaken. Artistic production was not restricted to the yangbanxi (and even their number had grown to 18 by the end of the period). Moreover, the yangbanxi are everything else but the product of an iconoclastic, and xenophobic era as which the Cultural Revolution is so often described. Instead, they are manifestations of a hybrid taste which calls for the transformation of Chinese tradition according to foreign standards, a taste which for a century has led to the creation of a Chinese culture with foreign imprint. Therefore, the model works cannot simply be considered a hideous perversion of the Maoist experiment of re-inventing a new--Chinese but revolutionary--culture. Instead, they yangbanxi have their rightful place in a long series of attempted syntheses of foreign and Chinese heritage that continues to the present day.

The aims of the Heidelberg workshop are threefold:

1. It hopes to uncover the origins of Cultural Revolution Culture and to trace its repercussions in contemporary art and culture. It will discuss and evaluate the historical, artistic and social depth and the cultural significance of Cultural Revolution Culture.

2. The workshop intends to enrich our knowledge of cultural life during the Cultural Revolution which is still hampered by the difficulty of obtaining sources. It will juxtapose objects of cultural production from the Cultural Revolution and the memories by participants in the Cultural Revolution.

3. The workshop sets out to present an alternative reading of Cultural Revolution Culture. In discussions of the model works as well as other cultural products (such as poetry, short stories, novels, songs, music, paintings, theatre, film) from the Cultural Revolution and from the years before and after those "10 years of stagnation" it may become apparent that Cultural Revolution Culture must be considered less the deviant than the norm of (orthodox political) culture in the People's Republic of China.

Yiman Liu
Last modified: Mon Jun 4 12:37:56 CEST 2001