Overview of the Exhibit
time Exhibit Soundtrack
The audio-visual materials and this written document were collectively produced and revised by: David Carnochan, Barbara Mittler, Sue Tuohy, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom with thanks to the assistance of Peter Alyea, John Fenn, Michael Schoehals, Sarah Stevens and Liana Zhou
The Cultural Revolution was a hyper-multimedia production, long before the words became part of our daily vocabulary. Extending far beyond the posters, the messages of the Cultural Revolution saturated every type of medium available. The reproduction of words and symbols--through radio and television, theatre and art, books and pamphlets, postcards and collectors' cards, ornaments and badges--intensified the Cultural Revolution's impact and reverberations. At mass assemblies in Tiananmen Square, people held up their Quotations of Chairman Mao , the same "red books" portrayed on posters, postage stamps, and alarm clocks. Citizens of the People's Republic of China (PRC) recited together from their books at study meetings, and they covered their physical surroundings with the quotations so that buildings, walls, and hills all proclaimed the thought of Mao Zedong. Ceramic factories turned their energies to producing statues of characters from revolutionary musicals (the so-called model works), the same characters portrayed in posters of the time. Art and literature workers "transplanted" entire musical texts from one genre to the next, and they detached individual pieces from song and dance dramas to be sung in rallies and chimed on clock towers. This monumental intertextual web of texts, images, sounds, and movements surrounded and caught up Cultural Revolution participants and bystanders alike. And such practices contributed to making the Cultural Revolution a multimedia event that was a sustained and pervasive part of daily life for people throughout the PRC.
We often hear that the music of the Cultural Revolution was monolithic--that people were allowed to perform only the same "eight model operas" throughout the period. While this characterization is partly true, only a few years into the Cultural Revolution, eighteen works were officially designated as models; and these models constantly were revised and transplanted into different formats. Apart from the models, a great number of other compositions based on Mao's words were produced and reproduced. As the exhibit soundtrack demonstrates, the musical sounds were diverse, and their histories--before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution--complicated. The music encompassed a variety of styles, including those from Chinese traditional music (a term that usually refers to styles of music developed in China prior to the twentieth century). It also incorporated instruments and harmonies historically associated with "Europe" and the "West," even though these already had been used in China for nearly one hundred years by the time of the Cultural Revolution.
Many of the melodies and texts represented on the exhibit soundtrack have long histories dating back to the early days of Chinese Communist Party activities in the 1920s. Indeed, we might call many of these songs "music from revolutionary China," rather than from the Cultural Revolution per se. And they live on in popular and avant-garde music today. To highlight this point, our soundtrack includes Cultural Revolution covers of pre-Cultural Revolution songs and post-Cultural Revolution covers of Cultural Revolution songs.
Such factors complicate the issue of musical memories of the period. Walking down memory lane, a majority of Chinese people alive during the Cultural Revolution remember the model works since they played incessantly. Because of differences in age and experiences, however, people have distinctive recollections. Different factions of Red Guards emphasized different sets of songs, and people composed new pieces and abandoned older ones. While one piece may strike a chord in one person, another might not even remember hearing it. The Cultural Revolution was a long, national, and pervasive movement, but it played out then, and in today's memories, in terms of a theme and variations.
Most of the music on the soundtrack was popular throughout the Cultural Revolution, but just as government and cultural leaders moved in and out of favor, so often did the music. When composers were branded "counter-revolutionaries," their compositions often suffered the same fate. Musical fashion and criticism tended to follow shifts in power and ideology and, therefore, even the model works were subject to constant revisions. Music that revolutionary songbooks once heralded as embodying the "indomitable spirit of the Chinese people struggling against oppression to create a New China," later could be denounced as "bourgeois" and "over-romanticized." And music once denounced as "bourgeois," later could be "re-evaluated" as capable of expressing the revolutionary thought of the masses. One never could be sure. A song sung one day might be condemned the next as "incorrect" and, thereby, an indication that the singer harbored hidden anti-revolutionary thoughts.
During the 1930s through 1950s, art and literature workers devoted much of their creative energies to producing compositions based on Chinese folk music. But by the late 1960s, the direction of their work shifted because Jiang Qing--the wife of Mao Zedong and de facto leader of cultural affairs throughout much of the period--did not like "vulgar" folksongs. Being labelled "incorrect" was not necessarily the end of the line for a musical composition, however, since some pieces could be "revised," just as some people of suspect political character could be "re-educated." Collectives of art and literature workers, "with assistance from the masses," revised and adapted pre-existing works and composed new ones. A set of strict, albeit changing, principles guided their production. To keep track of the changing guidelines, circulars printed directives on cultural work and newspapers printed commentaries on recent productions. Quotes from Mao and Jiang Qing, printed as introductions to the published versions of model operas and ballets, functioned as imprimaturs and served to push forward the canonization of particular pieces.
Standing at the top of the musical canon were the eighteen so-called model works--in their various incarnations as Beijing operas, local opera adaptations, ballets, symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and choral arrangements--which constituted a staple of the Cultural Revolution musical diet. Musical composition and performance collectives adapted and readapted the model works in a variety of formats, a practice common throughout much Chinese musical history. The soundtrack takes into account this phenomenon by presenting different versions of several of the model works.
One early revolutionary song, "The East Is Red" , survived throughout the entire period. Indeed, it became the substitute "national anthem" of the Cultural Revolution when the "National Anthem of the PRC" was condemned because its lyrics were written by Tian Han , who was branded as a counter-revolutionary by that time. "The East Is Red" was written by a poor peasant in the 1940s near the Communist base area of Yan'an, where Mao resided, and began:
The East is red, the sun has risen.
It became the title song to The East Is Red Song and Dance Epic performed in Beijing by 3,000 workers, peasants, students, and soldiers in 1964 for the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the PRC and released as a film. The piece musically dramatized the story of Chinese revolutionary struggle in the first half of the twentieth century and included some of the best known revolutionary songs from the period: "The Jinggang Mountains" , "Without the Communist Party There Would Be No New China", and "On the Songhua River" . Several songs from the epic can be heard on this soundtrack (examples 4, 18, 19, 20, and 25) and on the videotape, such as "Sing in Praise of Our Homeland" .
Within a few years, many of these songs had fallen into disfavor, but "The East Is Red" remained, playing as background music in radio broadcasts and functioning as the wake-up call blaring every morning from loudspeakers. It was incorporated into the major artistic productions of the Cultural Revolution, the model works. The second example comes from a film of the model opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy set during the civil war in 1946. The hero Yang Zirong is about to send off a crucial message to his Red Army comrades to advise them on attacking the bandits on Tiger Mountain. To the tune of "The East Is Red," he sings of his resolve to fight insurmountable difficulties because "in his bosom, a red sun is glowing."
Even after the death of Mao, "The East Is Red" continued as a musical symbol in the PRC. It was the central motif of the soundtrack to the 1992 film retelling of Mao's Life and the identification signal for the PRC's national radio station. The composer Tan Dun used it in his 1996 multi-media composition "Red Forecast," and it appeared on many of the tapes of pop revolutionary songs that came out in the early 1990s such as Remembering Mao Zedong
Apart from songs and instrumental pieces, people could hear the sound of chanted slogans on a regular basis. The text of this slogan, from the Red Guard period (1966-69), is: "We will rebel. Rebel against those authorities in our Party going down the capitalist road. We will revolt. Revolt against capitalist ox-demons and snake-spirits. We will strengthen our revolutionary spirit".
The army revolutionary song "The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention" stood second in importance to "The East is Red" during the Cultural Revolution. The songbooks published during the period printed in boldface these two songs, together with "The Internationale," at the top of their lists. "The Three Rules of Discipline" originated during the Yan'an days of the 1940s; this version for choir and military ensemble comes from the early 1970s. The three rules were: obey orders, don't take a needle or piece of thread from the masses, and turn in captured goods and do everything to ease the burden of the people. And the eight points of attention were: speak politely, pay fairly, return things you borrow, pay for things you damage, don't hit or swear at people, don't damage crops, don't take liberties with women, and don't mistreat captives. The goal was to elevate the soldiers of the Red Army to the status of role-models, and the model works often emphasized the close relationship between the Red Army and the Chinese people. Like the "The East Is Red," the melody of "The Three Rules" made its way into key scenes in various musical genres, as in the model opera Shajia Village which depicts the patriotic activities of villagers during the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945). In the first scene, which begins with an interlude filled with flourishes from "The Three Rules," Party secretary Aqingsao is introduced to members from the Red Army.
The well known composer Xian Xinghai (1905-1945) wrote and revised his massive Yellow River Cantata , during the war period (1939 and 1941). The Yellow River constituted a persistent theme of revolutionary music, often serving as a metaphor for China and its beauty and hardships. Set to words by Guang Weiran , the piece called the compatriots to war to recover the homeland from Japanese occupation. Xian Xinghai--officially called the "People's Composer"--used folksongs or work songs from the masses in many of his compositions. The "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" in the first movement was based on a work song .
The Cantata formed the basis for the Yellow River Piano Concerto adapted during the Cultural Revolution by well known pianist Yin Chengzong and others. The concerto soon took its place among the model works. By the clever act of hauling his piano into the fields and playing revolutionary songs for the masses, Yin established the "bourgeois" piano as an instrument acceptable within the musical pantheon of the Cultural Revolution--and established himself as a revolutionary musician.
Pieces focusing on the struggles and suffering of the people during the War of Resistance Against Japan became prominent again in the 1990s, especially when the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war was marked in 1995. Chinese Soul , an album released in 1995, included "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" sung by the Outer Space Singers . That same year, a 10,000-person chorus performed Xian Xinghai's Yellow River Cantata (example 7) in a concert "commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of China's triumph in the War of Resistance against Japanese Invasion."
After the founding of the PRC in 1949, the range of ceremonies and public events increased the need for more generic, yet grand, ceremonial music. Although marches were common particularly during the first half of the Cultural Revolution, songs such as "We Are the Successors of Communism" and "March of the Athletes" continued to play at important ceremonial functions and school sports activities throughout the period and beyond. In contrast, we hear in the next example, a sample of more spontaneous and unaccompanied singing of the song "Navigating the Seas Depends on the Helmsman" --ending with the line "making revolution depends on the thought of Mao Zedong"--from a rally in the late 1960s.
All of the canonical model works underwent a continuous process of reworking and revision during the Cultural Revolution, mirroring the concept of "continuous revolution" practiced on other levels. And like the Yellow River Concerto, the histories of all but one of these model works predate the Cultural Revolution. The music and plot of the model ballet The White-haired Girl originated in Yan'an in the 1940s. Art and literature workers, including composers such as Ma Ke , in the Lu Xun Arts Academy incorporated local opera forms in an attempt to create a "new opera" . In the following excerpt from the first act of the 1947 version of the Yan'an opera, the main character Xi'er (the white-haired girl) waits impatiently for her grandfather to come home on New Year's Eve. The melody becomes Xi'er's leitmotif. (See the section on the videos for a description of the plot; another scene from a different version of the ballet can be seen in the video.)
This example, taken from the model ballet version of The White-Haired Girl created during the Cultural Revolution, begins and ends with the sound of wind, echoing the text sung by Xi'er, "the north wind blows." This version of Xi'er's song is followed by folk dance-like music accompanying the dancing of young women from the neighborhood. Then the music announces the arrival of Dachun who, due to the ban on public performance of personal emotions in Cultural Revolution ideology, is no longer described as Xi'er's fiancé as he was in earlier versions. The ballet now represents the love between the two as based on long years of enduring common hardships under the oppressive rule of the ruthless landlord.
As many works from the classical European repertoire were banned during the Cultural Revolution, instrumental teaching was based almost entirely on arrangements from the model works, such as the piano impromptu based on the melodies from The White-haired Girl from the early 1970s.
The next example comes from another of the model works, the 1970 revision of the modern revolutionary ballet The Red Detachment of Women , which also was transformed into a modern revolutionary Peking Opera version in 1972. Mao’s quotations, such as those at the left, prefaced many books and films of model works in the years from 1968 to 1972. (See the video section below for a description of the plot.) During this scene, the main character Wu Qinghua arrives at the base of the Red Detachment of Women. The scene begins with the "March of the Women's Company":
This song is reworked in a rather different musical environment by the rock group Modern People on the 1992 Red Rock tape.
We return to "The East Is Red," followed by slogan chanting (see example 4) and three other songs from The East Is Red Song and Dance Epic. These versions, along with remakes of two of them from the 1990s, further illustrate the continuity of music before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution. He Luting composed "The Song of the Guerrillas" in 1937 and, like the next two songs, it became a staple in revolutionary songbooks through the mid-1960s. Within a few years, however, such songs became suspect as composers such as He Luting came under severe criticism. Instead of being performed, the songs became a topic of ideological debate on the musical battleground. "Nanniwan” composed in 1943 in Yan'an, describes the improvements made, with the help of the Communist Party, in a village in North China.
Basket of flowers are fragrant, listen while I sing,
Again, the Yellow River forms the theme for "Defend the Yellow River" , composed at part of the Yellow River Cantata in the late 1940s by Xian Xinghai with lyrics by Guang Weiran.
Although "Nanniwan" and "The Song of the Guerrillas" were not popular after the initial years of the Cultural Revolution, they were reissued in the 1990s. Several tapes commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the War of Resistance Against Japan feature these early songs such as "Nanniwan" (example 19), "Defend the Yellow River" (example 20), and the "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" (example 6). "The Song of the Guerrillas" plays on Go Forcefully to Cut off the Heads of the Foreign Invader Devils issued in 1995. The rock 'n' roll star Cui Jian also covered "Nanniwan" on his 1991 Resolve tape and in concert. It is said that because a veteran soldier was so offended by Cui Jian's 1987 concert performance of this old revolutionary song, the government banned Cui's performances for a time. Perhaps apocryphal, such stories hint at the power of these musical symbols of revolutionary China.
Around 1990, rock 'n' roll and popular music versions of old "songs of the masses" and music associated with the Cultural Revolution and with Mao Zedong specifically, were re-issued on commercial tapes. Almost all songs on the 1990s "red sun" tapes can be found in the most orthodox collections of revolutionary songs produced during the mid-sixties, but here they are set to "new rhythms." The first of the "Red Sun" tapes, Red Sun: Mao Zedong Praise Songs: New Revolutionary Medley, sold 6-10 million copies. The tape begins in a rather stately, reverential manner with "The Sun is the Reddest, Chairman Mao is the Dearest, the radiance of your thought will always shine in my heart, the radiance of your thought will always guide our voyage." One of the cuts on that tape, "Chairman Mao's Words Are Engraved in Our Hearts" , emphasizes an important point. Regardless of political beliefs or emotional associations, people growing up in during the late 1950s through 1970s, heard, spoke, and memorized Mao's words. During the early part of the Cultural Revolution, the government handed out over 300 million free copies of the red book. A repeated part of daily life for many years, the quotations became embodied. Even today, many Chinese people remember on which page in the red book a particular quotation was found. And in the 1990s, they could hear the quotations again through newly revised versions issued on commercially produced tapes such as Musical Settings of Quotations from Chairman Mao: A Rock' n' Roll Medley of Praise Songs for a Great Man . The tape begins with "The East Is Red" played on bells, followed by "China has produced a Mao Zedong; he is the pride of the Chinese people." Then the quotes:
Arise, poverty-stricken slaves;
There has never been a Savior,
This is the last struggle
Like "The East is Red," the "Internationale" time and time again marked dramatic moments in the model works such as when, in The Red Detachment of Women (example 15), Party Secretary Hong Changqing walks toward the stake at which he is to be burned. It also appears as the introductory music to the first movement of a piano quintet based on the model opera The Harbour . And, of course, "The Internationale," sung ten years ago by protesters in Tiananmen Square, will continue to be used by the people of the PRC--whether to support or to challenge the status quo. The line between reverence and mockery often is difficult to draw. We end with the 1992 variation offered by the rock group Tang Dynasty .
Set in Hainan Island in 1927-37, the ballet tells the story of Wu Qinghua, a young servant girl and daughter of a poor peasant who works for an evil landlord in the south. After trying to escape from him many times, she finally succeeds. Nearly beaten to death, she finds her way to the Red Detachment of Women with the help of Hong Changqing , a party representative in the Red Army. Together, they kill the evil landlord of the Coconut Grove, winning a great victory for the Red Army and for the people struggling under severe oppression.
The video shows scene 2 "Wu Qinghua Denounces the Tyrant for His Crimes and Joins the Red Army" , beginning with "March of the Women's Company" , also heard on the exhibit soundtrack (example 15). It dramatizes the transformation of an oppressed slave into a revolutionary soldier fighting for China. Celebrating the formation of the Red Company of Women of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, Hong Changqing leads them in a practice drill. After a series of dances, including the women's sword and men's dagger dances, Wu Qinghua arrives, weakened by her struggle with the tyrant from the Coconut Grove Manner. People gather around to support her, telling her that she has arrived at a Red Army base. With deep emotion, she touches the red flag and announces her desire to become a soldier. They give her food, and she tells them the story of crimes of the tyrant and the oppression of her family. The people hold up banners reading "Down with tyrants! Divide up the land! Capture the tyrant of the south." Wu Qinghua takes up her sword and her place in the ranks of the Red Detachment of Women.
Selected Footage from the Cultural Revolution, assembled by David Carnochan.
This video is comprised of a series of scenes from the Cultural Revolution, beginning with Mao Zedong's celebrated swim in the Yangtze River in July 1966. Accompanied by "5,000 youth" (along with soldiers, local police, and body guards), a flotilla of boats, and hundreds of red flags, reports credited Mao with swimming "ten miles in an hour." Throughout the video, we see posters, portraits, statues, of Mao--along with the real Mao back in the swim of things politically--as the supreme symbol of the Cultural Revolution. Much of the footage was shot in Tiananmen Square, where millions of people assembled, chanting slogans, holding red books, and trying to catch a glimpse of their leader. The film vividly portrays the intensity of emotion of both the individual and the massive crowd as a whole. It shows video footage of the "smashing of the olds" and still photographs taken from rallies held to denounce people as counter-revolutionaries and revisionist elements, as well as a scene from a model theatrical work. The ritual aspects of the Cultural Revolution, its grand display events and revolutionary fervor, come through clearly. The soundtrack comes from The East Is Red Song and Dance drama (see "Exhibit Soundtrack" above). The Great Advancement of Mao Zedong's Thought . August First Film Studio , 1966.
Produced in the PRC for internal use, the film was acquired by a United States intelligence agency. The English-language narration stands as a relatively faithful translation of the Chinese. Put out just as the Cultural Revolution was beginning, the film focuses on the development and testing of the PRC's atomic bomb. This clip begins with the sound of "The East Is Red, " then skips to footage taken from the time of the third test. Although filmed in the Gobi desert--thousands of miles from Tiananmen Square--on the video we see workers reading, studying, and implementing in their daily work Mao's quotations. His name is written into the landscape and his quotes tacked to entrances of buildings.
White-Haired Girl: A Modern Revolutionary Ballet . (Shanghai: Shanghai Film Studio, 1972).
This film of the ballet is the 1970 revised version of a libretto of a new opera, first written and performed in the Communist base area in Yan'an in 1945; art and literature workers in Yan'an also revised that libretto several times during 1945-1949; it won the Stalin Opera Prize in 1951. The new opera was based on a text of a folk story popular in Hebei and published by art and literature workers during the early 1940s. A young women, Xi'er , is maltreated and raped by an evil landlord who also kills her only relative (examples 13, 14, and 15 on the exhibit soundtrack). Xi'er flees into the mountains, living on food local villagers offer to the gods in a small temple. From long-term malnourishment, her hair turns white, and the villagers who sometimes see her think she is a ghost. In this scene, Dachun, a cadre in the Eighth Route Army, discovers her and brings her back to real life in the village which itself has undergone improvements. Along with other members of the army and villagers, he leads Xi'er from the darkness of the cave into the bright sunlight. In the new society, so the audience learns, humans no longer have to become ghosts but instead, ghosts become humans again.One of Chairman Maos favourite words was contradiction, so it is fitting that the cultural products of one of the most famous (and infamous) events associated with his name, The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), can be understood as a study in contradictions. This is how the art of the time is presented at the Universitätsmuseum Heidelberg.
This exhibit uses sounds, objects, film footage and above all posters to evoke a time marked by extreme tensions, between old and new, the joyous and the violent, hope and despair. It presents a time of contradictions, when great leaders but also the most ordinary of people were exalted, when the Chinese Communist Party turned inward and yet was influenced by and sought to influence revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world. It also shows how, despite efforts by some to construct a monolithic culture and despite the reduplication through many media of certain key symbols and gestures and icons, artists working individually and as part of collective units continued to exercise considerable creativity within the limits imposed.
Both the repetitive and the varied nature of the cultural products of the period are suggested here. This is done via displays of objects in glass cases; a soundtrack of sounds associated with the Cultural Revolution, though not necessarily produced then; a video made up of a selection of documentary and theatrical film footage; and most of all the posters themselves.
The exhibit and the explanatory materials that accompany it are intended to provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the Cultural Revolution era as a multifaceted period in Chinese history and of the Cultural Revolution as a hyper-multi-media event.
|Yiman Liu Last modified: Sat Dec 30 00:58:53 MET 2000|