Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cultural Revolution, take two

During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, every bit of pop culture and high culture was tasked with promoting Mao and Communism. Traditional Chinese opera tales were mangled to teach lessons of Mao's Little Red Book. Is President Xi taking political culture down a similar road?

With Odes to Military March, China Puts Nationalism Into Overdrive
These are triumphant times for the Communist Party. President Xi Jinping, the general secretary, governs with seemingly unobstructed authority. The balance of power in Asia and the Pacific appears to be shifting in China’s favor. Extreme poverty, especially in rural areas, is nearing eradication.

And yet the Communist government seems intensely vulnerable at times as it confronts a slowing economy and a society in the throes of staggering change. In a country still working to find its place in the world, the party whips up nationalism as an elixir…

It has been 80 years, we are told again and again, since the end of the Long March, the 6,000-mile retreat of Communist forces that established Mao’s pre-eminence and gave the party its soul. More than 80,000 people died in the march, which began in 1934, but the bravery of the soldiers inspired generations of Chinese people to rally behind the party and its leader.

On television, Long March soap operas, documentaries and variety shows abound. Tour agencies offer packages retracing the soldiers’ routes. Students put on virtual reality goggles to relive famous battles. Joggers use a Long March-themed fitness app to measure their steps against the Red Army’s…

President Xi has been making the case for a “new long march,” using the anniversary to rally the public and warn against creeping complacency, especially among the young. “A nation that forgets its origins will find itself in a blind alley,” he said in a speech late last month.

On the whole, the spirit of the propaganda campaign is unambiguous: Chinese citizens should seek to emulate the ideals of self-sacrifice and perseverance that the soldiers of the Long March embodied. Above all, the messaging makes clear, people should show unwavering loyalty to the Communist Party.

The Long March allowed the Red Army to escape defeat at the hands of the Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-shek in southern China. The Communists regrouped in the north before going on to victory in the civil war in 1949…
Long March diva
“The Long March” opera, in development for four years, is a highlight of the government’s unfolding spectacle, featuring a cast of nearly 200 and a cymbal-heavy score that blends Chinese folk songs with Italian-style arias. It is one of the grandest political operas to debut in Beijing since the Cultural Revolution, when Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, made works celebrating the Communist Party a mandatory part of the repertoire at Chinese concert halls…

Near the end of the opera, as Red Army soldiers confront the scourges of disease and starvation, eating tree bark to survive, a young soldier named Ping Yazi is poisoned by wild vegetables. He becomes lost in a swamp, firing a shot into the air to warn away his fellow troops.

“I’m not afraid of death,” he sings, sinking underground. “I’m just reluctant to leave the Red Army.”

Soon after, red lights illuminate the theater, revolutionary flags fill the stage, and a song-and-dance routine breaks out. “Long live the Red Army!” the soldiers sing. “Long live the Long March!”…

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