The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is highlighting “red” shows in a series of celebrations for its 100-year anniversary this year. Critics say the CCP is attempting to use the shows to invoke its violent communist revolutionary past to stoke an anti-American and anti-West sentiment among the Chinese populace.
At a March 23 press conference, Hu Heping, deputy minister of the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department and Minister of Culture and Tourism, said in its centenary celebration, the CCP is focused on revisiting the “red classics.” The regime will put a number of red classics on stage this year, such as the opera “The White-Haired Girl,” the ballet “The Red Detachment of Women” and the symphonic chorus “The Song of the Long March.”
These shows were once well-known in China, as they were the few shows allowed to be performed during the CCP’s “Cultural Revolution” (1966–1976) for propaganda purposes. The Cultural Revolution was a violent mass political movement launched by then-CCP leader Mao Zedong, during which tens of millions of Chinese were persecuted to death and countless artifacts, antiques, and traditional architecture were destroyed.
Some critics pointed out that given the current tension between the Chinese regime and the West, the CCP has begun to rely on mass violence again, and intends to stir up hatred among Chinese toward the West, especially the United States, by relaunching the red theatre.
“These red dramas and movies were the few artistic works available when we were little,” Zhang Jianping, a current affairs commentator in Changzhou of Jiangsu Province, told Radio Free Asia (RFA). “And in the past, they did incite nationalistic sentiments among us. Of course, now we feel terrible about it, and we know this is something that promotes hatred.”
Zhang said the regime resorting to fomenting hatred through propaganda and education is mainly because of the escalated tension in Sino–U.S. relations. He said diplomacy is the continuation of internal affairs, and the CCP authorities relaunched the red shows to promote nationalistic hatred in order to draw the Chinese people closer to the CCP.
Cultural historian Zhang Guangsheng in Guangxi Province told RFA that the relaunch of the Cultural Revolution dramas on the Chinese stage is a sign of regression.
“I think that now [the regime] is moving backward at a fast pace, and we common people can do nothing about it. It’s moving towards a dead end, and we can do nothing about it. Of course, both domestic and international situations have put a lot of pressure on them [the CCP], and they can’t do anything about it. [The regime] feels a little safer to walk the old path of isolation and seclusion, and I don’t know whether the people would agree or not.”
Among the infamous red shows, “The White-Haired Girl” is a typical example of the CCP using literary propaganda to consolidate its violent rule.
It tells a fictional story of a poor peasant girl who was abused by a local landlord and escaped to the woods, wandering there for years, and her hair became totally white because of the hardship of living in the wilderness. She was saved by the communist army who came to “liberate” the land.
It was revealed in recent years by Chinese-language media both domestic and abroad, that the creation of the story in 1945 by the CCP was for propaganda purposes in the communist-occupied areas during China’s civil war between the Republic of China and CCP troops.
Poor peasants were reluctant to persecute the landowners and gentry. The CCP leaders ordered its literati to create a popular drama to stir up people’s hatred toward the landowners in order to mobilize people for violent mass political persecutions against the gentry. The CCP literati took liberty with a traditional local folk legend, “White-haired sorceress,” and turned it into a communist political drama of class war against landowners and gentry.
“The White-Haired Girl” was adapted to ballet, opera, and film to mobilize more violent mass political movements against landowners and gentry after the CCP took over mainland China in 1949. The plot and ending were changed to be more violent in accordance with the themes of the communist political movements. For example, the rent reduction achieved for farmers in the early versions became total land seizure from the landowners, which mirrored the violent “land reform” movement in the 1950s; and the landlord was given a more violent death in the end.
U.S.-based Chinese affairs commentator Lin Hui said the “white-haired girl” is one of the most well-known fictional images in mainland China and one of the most successful propaganda images created by the CCP to confuse right and wrong.
Netizen Ling Zhenbao in Jiangsu Province told RFA: “This year marks the centenary of the CCP. The propaganda department is working hard to promote the greatness, glory, and correctness of the CCP. At the same time, it’s also campaigning for Xi Jinping’s … reelection in the CCP’s 20th National Congress next year. They want to show the people of the world that they are the orthodoxy of the red world, and make sure the Communist Party’s violent revolution and class struggle will never be forgotten.”