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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Breaking the Sound Barrier: Examining China's Sonic Cultures Across the 1949 Divide
3: Socialist Hot Noise: The Sound and Fury of Maoist Campaigns
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Harvard University, Germany
Making hot noise (renao) was an integral aspect of making revolution in Mao’s China. From slogan-shouting to collective singing, from gong-and-drum parades to broadcasting over high-volume loudspeakers, the sounds of the revolution were not primarily communication tools, but rather catalysts of a festive ambience and exorcist weapons against class enemies. This paper excavates the sound and fury of Maoist campaigns as “socialist hot noise.” In everyday usage, “hot noise” describes a sociothermic affect generated through an assembly of warm bodies, a polyphony of participatory voices, or a kaleidoscope of sense impressions. Socialist hot noise took on politicized new forms in mass rallies, parades, and struggle sessions, as well as open-air cinema, mass calisthenics, and loyalty dances. Furthermore, electric technologies magnified and amplified socialist hot noise and helped solder scattered bodies into the revolutionary masses.
While theorizing “hot noise” as a multisensory term, this paper will focus on its audible loudness, particularly the weaponization of noise as an exorcist medium of Maoist campaigns: broadcast rallies during the 1951 Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, the massacre of sparrows through banging pots and pans at the 1958 Four Pests Campaign, and the pandemonium of loudspeakers, gongs, and drums to during the Red Guard Movement of the late 1960s that engendered sacred acoustic spaces as well as violence and terror, when the escalating volume of competing factions suggested that power in the Cultural Revolution was measured in decibels. A coda will also discuss the legacies and recent revivals of socialist hot noise.