Rethinking Cultural Revolution Culture

Audio-Visual Accompaniment to the Exhibit

Picturing Power:
Art and Propaganda in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
A Multi-Media Exhibition Held at Universitätsmuseum Heidelberg, 31.1.-28.2.2001

Overview Soundtrack Overview Videotrack Discography Soundtrack Readings and Websites Videotrack

Overview of the Exhibit

time     Exhibit Soundtrack
:00 1. "The East Is Red" from the song and dance epic (1964), 4:11
:04 2. "The East Is Red" in a model opera aria (1970), 1:11
:05 3. "The East Is Red" (1990), 1:05
:06 4. Chanting slogans (late 1960s), 0:17
:07 5. "The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention" (1970s), 2:16
:09 6. "The Three Rules of Discipline" from a model opera (1970), 3:13
:12 7. "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" from the Yellow River Cantata (1939), 1:15
:13 8. "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" from the Yellow River Concerto (1969), 2:39
:16 9. "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" (1995), 1:12
:17 10. "We Are the Successors of Communism" (n.d., 1970s?), 1:54
:19 11. "March of the Athletes" (n.d., 1970s), 1:27
:20 12. "Navigating the Seas Depends on the Helmsman," from a rally (late 1960s), 0:18
:21 13. The White-Haired Girl new opera (1947), 2:39
:24 14. The White-Haired Girl model ballet (1966/1971), 8:45
:32 15. Piano impromptu based on the White-Haired Girl (1970s), 3:10
:35 16. The Red Detachment of Women model ballet (1971), 1:28
:37 17. "Song of the Red Detachment of Women" (1992), 2:01
:39 18. "The East Is Red" (1964), 1:26
:40 19. chanting slogans, 0:17
:41 20. "Song of the Guerrillas" (1964), 0:54
:42 21. "Nanniwan" (1964), 0:44
:42 22. "Defend the Yellow River" (1964), 0:51
:43 23. "Song of the Guerrillas" (n.d., 1994 or 1995), 0:59
:44 24. "Nanniwan" (1991), 0:56
:45 25. "Mao's Words Are Engraved in Our Hearts" (1991), 1:13
:46 26. Musical settings of the quotations of Mao Zedong (1991), 2:42
:49 27. "The Internationale" (1970s), 4:43
:54 28. "The Internationale" from a piano quintet based on a model opera (1970s), 1:36
:55 29. "The Internationale" (1992), 4:24


Exhibit Videotrack

1. The Red Detachment of Women (1971)
2. Selected Footage from the Cultural Revolution
3. The Great Advancement of Mao Zedong's Thought (1966)
4. The White-Haired Girl (1972)
5. Selected Footage from the Cultural Revolution



  1. "The East Is Red". From the film soundtrack of The East Is Red Song and Dance Epic. Beijing, 1964.
  2. Aria sung by Yang Zirong. From the film soundtrack of the mode l opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Scene 8. Collectively composed in 1963-1964 and revised in 1970. Bailey Record Company, 1970s.
  3. "The East Is Red." From Remembering Mao Zedong. Hubei Recording Arts Publishers and Guangdong Folk Arts Tape Factory, 1990.
  4. Chanting slogans. From a mass rally, late 1960s.
  5. "The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention" for choir and military ensemble. Bailey Record Company , 1970s.
  6. "The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention." From the film soundtrack of a Cantonese opera version of the model opera Shajia Village, scene 1. The opera was composed in 1958 as a Shanghai opera, revised in 1964 as a Beijing opera version. This performance comes from the film made of the 1970 revision, recorded in the 1970s.
  7. "Yellow River Boatmen's Song". From the first movement of the Yellow River Cantata ; composed by Xian Xinghai with lyrics by Guang Weiran , 1939; revised 1941.
  8. "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" . From the prelude of the Yellow River Concerto ; arranged by Yin Chengzong et al., 1969.
  9. "Yellow River Boatmen's Song" ; performed by the Outer Space Singers . From Chinese Soul . China Broadcast Recording Publishers and Beijing Arts Record Company , 1995.
  10. "We Are the Successors of Communism" . From Music for Ceremonies . Beijing: Beijing Record Company , (n.d., 1970s?).
  11. "March of the Athletes" . From Music for Ceremonies . Beijing: Beijing Record Company , (n.d., 1970s?)
  12. "Navigating the Seas Depends on the Helmsman" . Recorded at a demonstration in the late 1960s.
  13. "Xi'er's Song" . From the new opera The White-Haired Girl . Collectively composed at the Lu Xun Arts Academy in Yan'an, by Ma Ke , Zhang Lu , and Qu Wei . 1947.
  14. "Xi'er's Song," "The Dances of the Girls," and "Dachun's Arrival." From the model ballet The White-Haired Girl , 1966 revised version; performed in 1972.
  15. "White-Haired Girl Impromptu" . From a "Youth Piano Concerto" , based on the model ballet The White-Haired Girl; performed by Liu Shikun , 1970s.
  16. "March of the Women's Company" . From the film soundtrack of the modern revolutionary ballet The Red Detachment of Women , opening to Scene 2, "Wu Qinghua Denounces the Tyrant for His Crimes and Joins the Red Army" . Composed in 1965; revised in 1970 collectively and performed by the China Ballet Troupe . Beijing: Beijing Film Studio , 1971.
  17. "Song of the Red Detachment of Women" ; performed by Modern People . From Red Rock . Beijing: Beijing Film Institute Recording Company , 1992.
  18. See number 1.
  19. Chanting slogans (see example 4).
  20. "Song of the Guerrillas" ; words and music by He Luting (1937). From the film soundtrack of The East Is Red Song and Dance Epic . Beijing, 1964.
  21. "Nanniwan" ; lyrics by He Jingzhi and music by Ma Ke , (1943). From the film soundtrack of The East Is Red Song and Dance Epic. Beijing, 1964.
  22. "Defend the Yellow River" . A song from the Yellow River Cantata; lyrics by Guang Weiran and music by Xian Xinghai , 1939; revised 1941. From the film soundtrack of The East Is Red Song and Dance Epic. Beijing, 1964.
  23. "Song of the Guerrillas" ; performed by Yang Peiguo ; words and music by He Luting (1937). From Go Forcefully to Cut off the Heads of the Foreign Invader Devils . Kunming : Yunnan Record Publishers , n.d. (1994 or 1995).
  24. "Nanniwan" ; arranged and performed by Cui Jian ; lyrics by He Jingzhi and music by Ma Ke (1943). From Resolve . Beijing: China Northern Light Sound Arts Company , 1991.
  25. "Chairman Mao's Words Are Engraved in Our Hearts" ; performed by Li Xiaowen . From Red Sun: A Medley of Mao Zedong Praise Songs with New Rhythms . Shanghai: Shanghai Branch of the China Record Company , 1991.
  26. From Musical Settings of Quotations from Chairman Mao: A Rock 'n' Roll Medley of Praise Songs for a Great Man ; various performers. Beijing, 1991.
  27. "The Internationale" for choir and military ensemble. Bailey Record Company , 1970s.
  28. From the first movement of a piano quintet with operatic singing Haigang based on the model opera The Harbor ; performed by Yin Chengzong . Bailey Record Company , 1970s.
  29. "The Internationale"; arranged and performed by Tang Dynasty , 1992.

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.


Exhibit Soundtrack

As a participatory event, the Cultural Revolution was meant to move people both emotionally and physically. As in previous twentieth-century political movements, the performing arts proved to be particularly effective in encouraging participation. Music coordinated the actions of the masses in a very real sense. People rhythmically waved their red books and marched together to music, singing "with one voice." Apart from the 1990s cover versions (remakes), the music you hear in this exhibit is the same music Chinese citizens heard through loudspeakers in dining halls, on trains, in schools, and at work in the factories and fields. Repeated and performed daily, the music was familiar to people from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. And, as the video in this exhibit illustrates, the sights and sounds of the Cultural Revolution carried beyond the nation's capital to the outermost regions of the Gobi desert.

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.
China has produced a Mao Zedong.
He works for the people's happiness;
He is the people´s savior.

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":

Forward, forward!
Important the soldiers' task, deep the women's hatred.
Smash your shackles, rise in revolution!
We're the Women's Company, taking up arms for the people.
Forward, forward!
Important the soldiers' task, deep the women's hatred.
Communism is the truth, the Party leads the way.
Slaves will arise, slaves will arise!
Forward, forward!

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,
Come to Nanniwan, a great place, great scene;
Crops, cows, and sheep are everywhere.
The old Nanniwan was an uninhabited place of barren hills;
But today's Nanniwan is different.
It no longer has that old look.
It has become the Jiangnan [a fertile area in the south] of northern Shaanxi.

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:

  1. No. 1, on the Communist Party: "The force at the core leading our case forward is the Chinese Communist Party. The theoretical basis guiding our thinking is Marxism-Leninism."
  2. No. 30 on Youth: "The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigour and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed on you."
  3. No. 28, on Communist Party members: "We Communists are like seeds and the people are like the soil. Wherever we go, we must unite with the people, take root and blossom among them."
This soundtrack began with "The East is Red," the "national anthem" of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It ends with "The Internationale," which appropriately draws attention to the fact that many conceived the Chinese Cultural Revolution as part of a worldwide as well as national revolutionary movement; it was influenced by and influential on other countries. This song, composed to celebrate the Paris Commune of 1871 and sung in many lands, serves as an aural counterpart to the exhibit posters with cosmopolitan themes, such as one commemorating the centennial of the commune and those that call on oppressed people in all lands to join forces against imperialism.

Arise, poverty-stricken slaves;
Arise, all suffering people of the world;
The blood in our hearts is boiling,
Let us fight for truth.
Smashing the old world into pieces,
Arise slaves, arise!
Do not say that we possess nothing,
We will be masters under heaven.

There has never been a Savior,
Nor should we rely on gods and emperors.
To create happiness for human kind,
We must rely on ourselves.
. . .
Why should we tolerate the parasites?
They are the most hateful poisonous snakes and brutal beasts.
They drink up our blood and eat up our flesh.
Once they are wiped out,
The fresh and red sunshine will brighten up the whole world.

This is the last struggle
. Get united for tomorrow,
Internationale will surely come.

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 .


Selected Readings and Websites

  • Chang-tai Hung, "The Politics of Songs: Myths and Symbols in the Chinese Communist War Music," Modern Asian Studies 30 (1996):901-30.
  • Richard Curt Kraus, Pianos and Politics in China: Middle-Class Ambitions and the Struggle over Western Music (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
  • Gregory Lee, "The 'East Is Red' Goes Pop: Commodification, Hybridity and Nationalism in Chinese Popular Song and Its Televisual Performance," Popular Music 14 (1995):95- 110.
  • Barbara Mittler, "'Mit Geschick den Tigerberg erobert'--Zur Interpretation einer multiplen Quelle" (Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy: On the interpretation of a multiple source), in Lesarten eines globalen Prozesses: Quellen und Interpretationen zur Geschichte der europäischen Expansion, ed. Andreas Eckert and Gesine Krüger (Münster: LIT, 1998), pp. 35-51; and Dangerous Tunes: The Politics of Chinese Music in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the People's Republic of China since 1949 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997).
  • Andreas Steen, Der Lange Marsch des Rock 'n' Roll: Pop- und Rockmusik in der Volksrepublik China. Hamburg: Berliner China Studien 32, 1996.
  • Vivian Wagner, "Songs of the Red Guards: Keywords Set to Music," Paper #9 in the Indiana East Asian Working Paper Series on Language and Politics in Modern China, ed. Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Sue Tuohy (Bloomington: East Asian Studies Center, Indiana University, 1996).
  • Isabel K. Wong. "Geming Gequ: Songs for the Education of the Masses," in Popular Chinese Literature and Performing Arts in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1979, ed. Bonnie S. McDougall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 112-43.
  • (Chinese pop music websites)
  • (Keywords of the Chinese Revolution Working Papers Series)
  • (Gate of Heavenly Peace)


Exhibit Videotrack

The Red Detachment of Women: A Modern Revolutionary Ballet . Revised collectively in May 1970 and performed by the China Ballet Troupe (Beijing: Beijing Film Studio, 1971).

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 Mao’s 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