Mao Today: “Red Culture,” “Red Songs”–and Now “Red Volleyball”?

May 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

The Red Army fears not the trials of the Long March,
Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
The Five Ridges wind like gentle ripples
And the majestic Wumeng roll by, globules of clay.
Warm the steep cliffs lapped by the waters of Golden Sand,
Cold the iron chains spanning the Tatu River.
Minshan’s thousand li of snow joyously crossed,
The three Armies march on, each face glowing.   (The Long March)

Written by Mao Zedong in October of 1935 to commemorate the Red Army’s legendary 6000-mile trek (1934-1935) that broke the Guomindang blockade, the “Long March” is being read avidly today—at least by members of the Chinese women’s Olympic volleyball team.  During practice, the team works on their spikes, stuffs, sets, and line shots; after practice they come together to read the “Long March.”

Why do they read and recite the “Long March”?  The China Volleyball Association website explains,

Through these kinds of activities, the Chinese women’s volleyball team…learns from the old Red Army, stays brave when facing difficulties, devotes itself to daily training, works hard, raises standards and prepares for the London Olympics with the momentum that Chairman Mao had when leading the Red Army throughout the Long March.

Never mind that we can’t know how genuinely inspired team members are by their reading of “Long March” or whether the Chairman’s poetry will provide sufficient inspiration for them to win gold in London in 2012.  What’s notable here is that Mao is enjoying a renaissance.  That the Olympic volleyball team holds study sessions to discuss the poems of the Chairman, much as youths 50 years ago, during the Cultural Revolution, studied the sayings of Mao in the Little Red Book, is but one indicator of his renewed popularity.

Another, more telling indicator is to be found in metropolitan Chongqing (pop. 30 million).  Tune in to Chongqing Television (CTV) at prime time and you’ll no longer see the lineup of popular soap operas and sit-coms; instead you’ll be able to watch epic films or sing along to one of 36 “red songs” (selected by the government) that extol the achievements of Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party.

Watching "red" programming in Chongqing

Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai ordered the change in programming–as part of his “red culture” movement.  For Bo, and others like him– dubbed the “new left”–China has strayed too far from its “red” roots and needs to recommit itself to the revolutionary values of the early People’s Republic.

In the first couple of decades of the PRC (1949-  ), the new left maintains, the Mao-led government guaranteed economic security—jobs for all at equal pay; a safety net—where the elderly and infirm were to be provided for by the state; and a social equality—where distinctions between the privileged and unprivileged, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural were not indelible.   Zhang Jiedong, a recent graduate of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, says this message resonates now, especially with older generations, in its nostalgic appeal to an era where “there was less stress; income was guaranteed and competition for status symbols was almost non-existent.” (Bloomberg)

Where is all of this–the reading of the “Long March,” the watching of revolutionary films, the singing of “red songs,” and the calling for government policies that hew more closely to the founding ideals of the PRC–headed?  Hard to say.  But that the Chairman’s voice–35 years after his death–is vibrant and influential in China today—is certain.


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§ 3 Responses to Mao Today: “Red Culture,” “Red Songs”–and Now “Red Volleyball”?

  • DR says:

    Another fascinating tidbit about China.
    Is this a red varnish applied on top of Chinese capitalism, or is there something more (sinister?) going on politically?

    • Bo Xilai’s “red culture” movement is a political challenge to Deng Xiaoping’s market-oriented, “capitalist,” reforms, which have done much to bring prosperity to the Chinese people in the past decade. But the reforms have also led to a new inequality, both social and economic, an inequality that many in China worry is promoting social instability (hence the talk of “social harmony,” especially in the aftermath of the calls for a jasmine revolution). People like Bo are arguing for reassertion of state control of the economy and are drawing on the part of Mao’s reputation that is favorable for support of their position.

      There’s also a personal agenda going on here. Bo is hoping through his very public “red culture” movement–and the populist support it is gaining–to attract the attention of China’s top leaders and thus win a seat in 2012 on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

  • thealephmag says:

    The first step towards legitimizing a social movement is to glamorize it: in promoting the memory of a revolution fueled by anger towards injustice and oppression, the Chinese government should be careful what it wishes for.

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