Papers on Modern History VI

Mao and after Mao
Friday
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room A

  • Igor Chabrowski, “Reforming Opera in Chongqing: The Birth of the Communist ‘People’s Art’ (1949–1952)”
  • Fabienne Wallenwein, “Cultural Heritage Conservation: Becoming a Key Dimension of Chinese Urban Development?—A Study of Two Cases from the Jiangnan Region”
  • Anna Stecher, “The Biographical Representation of the Late Zhou Enlai. A Dramaturgical Approach”
  • Yumi Ishii, “Orphan of Zhao: A Story and the Dynamism of Village Community in Shanxi China”

Igor Chabrowski, “Reforming Opera in Chongqing: The Birth of the Communist ‘People’s Art’ (1949–1952)”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) revolutionary cultural policy in the 1950s is often presented as a well-organised, determined, planned, and effective system. On the example of the opera reform in Chongqing’s early 1950s, I shall demonstrate that this picture is very hard to sustain when faced with much of newly available evidence. I am going to argue that CCP understanding of the function of culture in the “socialist construction” and its ability to exploit artists and their work for the Party’s ends were very limited. The Party devolved cultural work to the military regions and provinces acted without any clear aim and was overwhelmed by the daunting task of providing basic subsistence to actors, writers, theatre administration et al. At the same time, Communists took over a country already shaped by the Nationalist Party wartime propaganda system and by a vibrant commercial market of theatre houses and opera troupes. In such conditions, the early 1950s cultural reform developed through efforts of suppression, adaptation, and subversion of the existing institution of cultural production, which made opera only partially serviceable to the political campaigns such as the land reform. Only the ongoing stress on China’s resources by the Korean War, motivated CCP leadership to form a national mechanism for exploitation of opera, reformulating it on the ideas, experiences, and definitions of the wartime propaganda developed during the Russian October Revolution, Sino-Japanese War 1937–45, and the Civil War 1946–49.

Fabienne Wallenwein, “Cultural Heritage Conservation: Becoming a Key Dimension of Chinese Urban Development?—A Study of Two Cases from the Jiangnan Region”

Early Chinese conservation initiatives can be traced back to a first conservation movement in the 1930s by the Society for Research in Chinese Architecture (Zhongguo yingzao xueshe 中国营造学社) and to pioneering foreign-educated Chinese architects such as Liang Sicheng 梁思成. Despite these initiatives, historic urban centres suffered great losses of cultural heritage during the Cultural Revolution as well as in the process of rapid urban development, resulting from neglect and destruction. China’s enthusiasm for World Heritage triggered a fundamental change in attitude with historic centres now being increasingly valued and placed under governmental protection. At the beginning of the 1980s, China primarily promulgated a batch of 24 National Historically and Culturally Famous Cities (Zhongguo lishi wenhua mingcheng 中国历史文化名城) characterised by preserved cultural relics and high historical value. The paper investigates the conservation of historic areas in two of these cities located in the Jiangnan region as part of city development: Pingjiang Historical and Cultural Block in Suzhou 苏州平江历史文化街区 and Tianzifang in Shanghai 上海田子坊. In both cases, the increasing significance of local characteristic features in a globalised world and recognition from the international conservation community are strong incentives for the conservation of cultural heritage and its integration into local development. Moreover, intangible aspects, such as references to literary works, philosophical and spiritual traditions or local customs are increasingly considered.

Anna Stecher, “The Biographical Representation of the Late Zhou Enlai. A Dramaturgical Approach”

As research has shown, biographies are not only determined by events or by historical facts but also, or even more, by aspects related to the process of story-telling and narrating. For this presentation, I aim at exploring the category of “dramaturgy” in order to analyse biographical texts. By dramaturgy, I mean all the strategies and techniques which are used for telling a story, comprising both the “what” (what is narrated) and the “how” (how is it narrated) as well as the “why” (the overall dramaturgy). In order to illustrate how this approach can be helpful for getting a better understanding of biographies produced in the 20th and 21st century China, I will especially focus on biographical texts which deal with the life of the late Zhou Enlai. While a number of studies have been conducted on biographies related to other influent Chinese politicians (especially Mao Zedong biographies), biographical texts on Zhou Enlai, although produced in overwhelming numbers also in recent times, remain largely unexplored. Besides examining literary biographies, I will also discuss biographical movies, TV-series, and theatre-plays.

Yumi Ishii, “Orphan of Zhao: A Story and the Dynamism of Village Community in Shanxi China”

This presentation will examine the oral tradition of Zhaoshi gu’er, the original story of Orphan of China, which was the most successful Chinese drama in 18th century Europe. In China, this story was recorded in Zuoshizhuan and Shiji as a historical event in Shanxi in the seventh century BC and widely spread in the villages of Shanxi orally before adapted in Yuan play.
In this presentation, I will argue the relationship between the story and rain-making rituals, which could be dated back to at least Song dynasty in Yu-County, to examine how the story was spread orally and related to the living of people there. Based on oral history research, I found that Zhaoshi gu’er (Zhao Wu in its name) has been worshipped as a deity of rain-making, every village curved a small statue of him to enshrine it in the mausoleum at Mt. Cang where, in the story, Zhao Wu had been hidden from the enemy for 15 years, then carried it back to their village when they need to perform rain-making. These statues were also shared among neighbouring villages and bound them together into several inter-village communities, which survived the prohibition of rain-making and political collectivisation of farming before 1980.
In this presentation, I will try to demonstrate the dynamism of this village network during and after Mao’s era, and show how the story affects people’s daily life and decision making under a crisis such as war, drought, and political turbulences.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room A
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Mao and after Mao