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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Serving the People with Art and Propaganda in Socialist and Post-Socialist China
Revisited Histories and Remodeled Operas: The Many Lives of the Eight Model Works
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Colby College, United States
Through a comparative analysis of Mao’s writings and the Eight Model Works (bageyangbanxi), this paper argues that at the heart of Mao’s theory of permanent revolution (buduangeming) is a genre question about the narratability of revolutionary history. Using the corpus of works stretching from the 1950s to the 2010s surrounding The Red Detachment of Women (hongseniangzijun) and Taking Tiger Mountain (zhiquweihushan) as case studies, I demonstrate that an integral feature of the dialectics of revolutionary practice was the craft of rewriting works of historical realism. As these historical events were refashioned with each installment of the Model Work, not only was history reinterpreted, but the method for writing history was itself recrafted. Tracing the genre’s development, I argue for the dialectical development of permanent revolution (as a theory of history) and the revolutionary genre (as a method of historiography). My analysis ultimately demonstrates how an iterative process of representing revolutionary histories itself became an act of making revolution. This paper’s critical engagement with Red Detachment and Tiger Mountain as continuing features of twenty-first century Chinese culture suggests how revolutionary literature shapes contemporary China’s modes of thinking about its own history. This reveals a pattern of ritualized engagement with revolutionary aesthetics that reframes the Cultural Revolution’s cultural legacy as not only artistic medium, but discursive practice.