A rare poster of actress Lan Ping aka Jiang Qing or Madame Mao from 1930’s Shanghai. Co-initiator and architect of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Distant greetings: China’s political music
2016 saw the 50th anniversary of the movement, formerly called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which lasted for 10 years.
The Cultural Revolution formally kicked off in May 1966, when Mao Zedong attacked rivals in the Communist party leadership and endorsed a wave of student criticism against teachers. The anarchic and bloody decade that followed discredited Mao in the eyes of many Chinese and paved the way for Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms after Mao’s death.
Chairman Mao’s last revolution is one of the most controversial events in modern Chinese history. The nationwide political campaign calling youth and working class to rebel against the state apparatus resulted in violent factional struggles in late 1966 and 1967. To restore order, Mao brought in the People’s Liberation Army and waves of repression followed. Many Mao-supporters of the early Cultural Revolution were victimized in the later stages.
The Cultural Revolution left deep wounds and trauma. It is not until 1980’s that a huge number of victims from among the political and intellectual elites were rehabilitated by the Communist Party and court verdicts against ordinary people were revised. Nevertheless, many people from all former factions feel mistreated by the CCP today, which is why talking about the Cultural Revolution is still a taboo. The Party avoids the heated subject and prefers mention the opening of China, Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, and so on. For the Chinese people, the censorship makes it hard to discuss it freely in public or they are simply ignorant (youth) or too apathetic (new middle classes). Criticizing sensitive issues in public is not tolerated. However, in private, mouths may open more easily.
In November 2015, on a Reality TV-show, a grey-haired man picked up a guitar and crooned about the death of his father and the dissolution of his family during the Cultural Revolution. Yang Le楊樂， dubbed China’s Johnny Cash gave a live performance, which was a rare public expression of sorrow for one of most tragic episodes in China’s recent history.
Yang Le’s song Ever since then從那以後 sounds like this:
When I was small
A family of six
Older brothers and sisters, I was the youngest
Dad was handsome and brave
Mom was young and beautiful
They worked earnestly, and were kind-hearted
After the Cultural Revolution, only five were left.
Dad suffered a wrong, he passed on first.
Mom had no choice, she married someone from a different place.
My siblings went up to the mountains and down to the countryside.
From that time on, our family was dispersed.
Brothers and sisters to the four corners of the earth.
At each holiday, we could only send distant greetings
Many years later, looking back again,
Brothers and sisters, no need to comfort each other
We all remember, Dad wanted us to be honest and kind
We should never change
We remember, Mom wanted us to be strong
We sing Dad and Mom’s favorite song
Strong and happy
Kind and honest
We sing Dad and Mom’s favorite song
Good and kind
It should be mentioned that Yang Le was discovered for the popular TV-show by Godfather of Chinese rock-n-roll Cui Jian, who in 1986 stirred the indolent quiet unequivocally and expressed the private feelings of an entire generation through his iconic song Nothing to my name 一无所有, which you can listen here:
(Lyrics inside the youtube link)