(De)Revolutionizing Information: Information Control and Media Politics in Communist China (1945-1976)
4: Listening to Enemy Radio in the Socialist Media Ecology
Thursday, March 24, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Harvard University, United States
This paper begins by unraveling how many ordinary Chinese learned about the death and betrayal of Mao’s “closest comrade-in-arms” Lin Biao on September 13, 1971—by listening to enemy radio—and analyzing the incident’s reverberations through the Chinese information hierarchy. Witnessing the meteoric rise and fall of Party leaders, Chinese citizens became amateur meteorologists who learned to read the unpredictable political climate in newspaper editorials, radio broadcasts, published photographs, and documentary newsreels. In this socialist information cosmos, however, sound sometimes traveled faster than light, and noise played an important role in launching and ending the Cultural Revolution.
The bulk of this paper tracks the evolution, revolution, and involution of Socialist China’s wireless and wired soundscape as well as the shifting definitions, boundaries and interactions between information, music and noise. As the phrase nao geming or “noising revolution” suggests, making noise was an integral aspect of making revolution in Socialist China. The Cultural Revolution decade in particular featured a deafening soundscape of high-volume loudspeakers and jammed shortwave radio. It was a schizophrenic and schizophonic age, a nervous time with electrified sounds waging wars on one’s nerves. This paper will conclude with echoes of enemy radio listening in the 1980s and scaling the Great Firewall in the new millennium.