Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens


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In the same month that the first of the model performance films was released, the renewed effort to popularise these works as models for all cultural practice was evident in Chinas media. The push did not rely upon showing the new film, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.

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Indeed, one source suggests that there were only thirteen copies of the new film in nationwide circulation. From photographs of these renewed propaganda efforts around the model performances it is clear that young people made up the main body of the activists. The novelty of the new-style opera became a local hit among the villagers in the district. They would invite Zhangs troupe to perform, preparing a much appreciated special meal for the visiting actors. In addition to the model operas, they also presented a range of songs, recitations, and skits. Young sent-down women dance while the men play the music.

Such local performers did not simply perform arias from the model operas and songs popularised on national and provincial radio broadcasts. Performers also wrote their own material in a wide variety of genres, ranging from song and dance duets errenzhuan to short skits and longer dramas.

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These were all based on models sanctioned in the mainstream media, but they could also be tailored to local tastes and performance traditions such as these duets. A major mechanism for the testing of the acceptability of an expanding repertoire was participation in provincial and regional performance festivals. The Liaoning festival of amateur performers in proved a showcase for over three thousand performers and students from across the province.

Forty-five days of preparation and three streams: spoken drama; song, dance, and variety performances; and operas attest to the scale of the exercise.

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Over half a million people watched the performances. Culture in the Cultural Revolution offered more than just eight shows watched by eight hundred million people, as the old joke suggested. Future Fifth Generation film director Wu Ziniu had spent over two years completing physical labour. Adjudged to have the appropriate political attitude, despite the condemnation of his professor father several years earlier and the suicide of his older sister, Wu was relieved of his labouring job in late After eighteen months of study, Wu joined a travelling drama troupe in Leshan.

Later he became a member of a spoken drama troupe in the prefecture.

Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens

All the while he had been honing his skills with the erhu two-stringed violin and piano accordion and in writing poetry and skits. Sent-down youth creativity needed outlets other than underground sharing of private art.

In early , the network of agricultural reclamation sites in Yunnan, largely staffed by educated youth, held a festival of amateur youth performances. Young people from Xishuangbanna, Linlun, Dehong, and Honghe presented four programmes of song, dance, and other items.

Two Shanghai youth wrote a so-called surge poem langtongshi in praise of the value of sending young people like themselves to the countryside. Their composition, in short, exclamatory lines, was recited by a massed group with dramatic increases in numbers and volume accounting for the name of the style of work. This was precisely like the street tableaux of Red Guards seen in Shanghai and elsewhere nine years earlier.

Items at the festival, such as New sprouts are sturdy Xin miao zhuozhuang , tried to present class struggle but reportedly needed more polish to be effective. Work on such officially sanctioned art was a means of strengthening the sent-down youths own commitment to the whole rural transfer project. Actual belief in the worldview presented in the model operas and other works of the Cultural Revolution should not be discounted. But the simple attraction of a diversion from what otherwise could seem a rather pointless existence, with little obvious chance of improvement or change in the near or medium term, was a major factor for many city youngsters.

This was true of Yang Jianhua and his participation in an amateur ballet troupe in Yunnan. Yang happened to have bought the ballet script just before his move to. They decided to present the second half of the dance dramas first act. News of Yangs ballet plan caused considerable interest in the regiment headquarters. He and his star were invited to join the newly established propaganda team. As much as the opportunity to perform, the attraction of not having to do physical labour to earn work points was equally important.

Of the twenty-nine members of the propaganda team, apart from three local Va minority colleagues, all were sent-down youth. In anticipation of Spring Festival , the propaganda team leadership decided that the complete Red Detachment should be presented. By making do with their own attempts at costumes, props, lighting, and sets, listening to records of the score, and watching a television version of the ballet to flesh out Yangs rather thin script book, eventually the Red Womens Detachment danced across a stage in a remote corner of Yunnan close to the Burma border.

The regimental political headquarters deputy head took a special interest in the troupes preparations. On one visit he urged the youngsters to practice on all occasions.


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One young man asked whether they should do so in the lavatory. Yes, came the firm reply. Yang does not record whether squatting en pointe became de rigeur. The original version of the dancedrama required over one hundred dancers. In Yunnan, Yang and his companions danced multiple parts. In order not to miss their cues, the dancers wore five or six layers of costumes, peeling the outer layer off as required.

Some of the women accordingly appeared to start the ballet pregnant. Yang Yusheng in Jiangyou county, Sichuan, was encouraged by his commune to write a one-act play in preparation for a county performance to commemorate the renewed push in to study the agricultural model of Dazhai village. Within a fortnight Yang had produced a script for Guardians in the Storm Fengyun shaobing , the story of an educated youth deceived by a class enemy in his plotting against the collective, but rescued by the production brigade Party secretary.

Despite its orthodoxy, the commune leadership was divided on the scripts political acceptability. But then came the 5 April Qingming demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere. Once the Communist Partys central decision condemning the demonstrations, which were directed at the group later identified as the Gang of Four, was received in Sichuan, the commune Party committee gave the go-ahead for Guardians in the Storm to participate in the county performance.

There was even a suggestion that the play be turned into a Sichuan opera Chuanju for the county Sichuan opera company. This local competitiveness was an area in which educated youth, with their writing and performance skills and experience often as Red Guard players, could contribute, bringing glory to their commune or village.

Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens

Rhythms Expressing Solidarity The start of the Cultural Revolution project to send young people to the countryside was full of a mix of excitement and dread. A student at the Chengdu No. From the loudspeakers came the news of the latest announcement, Then a song, using the theme tune of the film Heroic Sons and Daughters Yingxiong ern , but with new lyrics. Song of Wuhan Educated Youth Wuhan zhiqing zhi ge , for example, was a lament at saying farewell to a girlfriend.

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As Feng notes, there was a full range of feelings among the youth at the time they left their city homes. Lamenting the failure of the countryside to match their idealised image of it, Sichuan youth gave new lyrics to a song from the s. The new song became widely known in Chengdu and elsewhere as a plaintive expression of longing. There were more practical considerations expressed in song. More special, because of the frisson of risk associated with the activity, was singing vulgar songs huangse gequ, literally yellow songs. One evening three girls were singing softly in the group kitchen when the militia platoon leader next door heard them and rushed over.

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On his order, the. They used to call themselves Katyusha Kaqiusha, the name of a popular Russian song and of a Soviet rocket. When not making tunes, they used to entertain themselves by reciting in its entirety the dialogue from the Soviet film, Lenin in Liening zai nian , adding a silly or satirical tone to key lines.

The film was widely shown in the late s and early s, when new Chinese feature films were either not being made or only slowly emerging from the reopened studios. They first presented scenes from Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, with its dashing hero Yang Zirong and his tigerskin waistcoat and goatskin lined cape, though they gave it a distinctly Sichuanese opera flavour.

In addition, a few standards, such as the living report skit huobaoju Dont forget class bitterness; always remember blood-and-tears hatred Bu wang jieji ku, laoji xuelei chou , rounded out the programme. Electric light might allow more concentrated activities, such as reading or study.

Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens
Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens
Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens
Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens
Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens
Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens
Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens Youth Culture in China: From Red Guards to Netizens

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