‘Lake Honghu’ Revolutionary Opera Far From the Truth

October 30, 2018 Updated: July 9, 2020

By Li Yuanhua

An adaptation of the red opera “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” from Mao’s China is scheduled to perform in both Sydney and Melbourne in early November. After the red opera “Red Detachment of Women” was performed in Melbourne last year, the upcoming “Lake Honghu” marks yet another attempt by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to extend its propaganda and control Chinese culture, even in Australia.

But the adapted “Lake Honghu” opera that sings praise for the bloody history of the CCP’s rule is now facing resistance from some Chinese diaspora living in Australia.

Long-time Australian citizen Li Yuanhua, who was an associate professor in history education at Beijing’s Capital Normal University, opined in the Chinese-language Epoch Times that the events that unfolded at Lake Honghu were a bloody massacre of the Chinese people at the hands of the CCP rather than the party being the saviour, as depicted in the opera.

The following is Li’s commentary on the events of the 1930s in Honghu Region, and his view on how the CCP uses art such as the “Lake Honghu” opera to deliberately distort and falsify Chinese history.

What Was ‘The Red Guards on Lake Honghu’ in History?

The story described in the opera took place in the 1930s in the region centered around Lake Honghu, bordering Hunan and Hubei provinces. That region was controlled by the communists who were in the midst of internal purges initiated by the top communist leader in the region at that time, Xia Xi.

In 1928, Xia Xi studied at the Moscow Sun Yat-Sen University in Russia. In 1931, he was appointed as the party secretary of the region around Lake Honghu. Between 1932 to 1934, Xia Xi carried out four “counter-revolutionary” purges.

Xia Xi lead the Red Guards in spreading hatred and lies towards the various they targeted. They took over land and set houses on fire, extorted money and forced “confessions” using torture, beat up and shot dead landlords and the wealthy, and raped the daughters and wives of their victims. They shouted that they would “spread the Red Terror” and “kill off all the wealthy landlords, evil gentry, and counter-revolutionaries.” Wherever the Red Guards went, they left blood and corpses behind.

But the young communist zealots also became victims of the party’s murderous nature themselves.

In a CCP document titled “Xia Xi buried the Red Guards on Lake Honghu in his counter-revolutionary purge,” the party itself revealed the shocking, brutal, and bloody tragedy that unfolded. Many Red Guards died during the internal purges and infighting, with deaths greatly outnumbering the number that perished in fights against the Guomindang government.

For example, leading figures in the Red Army; including captain of Lake Honghu’s Red Guards Peng Guocai, whose role is similar to that of the fictitious Captain Liu Chuang in “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu,” the third Red Army’s former secretary Wan Tao, the third Red Army’s political department director Liu Zhixun, and the region’s inspector Pan Jiachen, were all killed in the brutal infighting within the Lake Honghu purges.

Duan Dechang, the captain of the sixth Red Army who was of high enough rank to recommend prominent Chinese Communist military leader Peng Dehuai as one of the Ten Marshals of the People’s Republic of China, was arrested in the internal purge. Not only was he beaten continuously, his executioner deliberately used a blunt knife when cutting off his head to prolong his suffering.

The ninth Red Army’s chief of staff Wang Bingnan suffered a similarly traumatic end. With his legs already broken, Wang was hung up and the red guards encouraged to hack him to death. After he was killed, his son was murdered too.

These brutal internal purges of the CCP were akin to the “Great Purge” by the Soviet Union during 1936-1938.

When the CCP withdrew from the region, half of those who were arrested during the campaign against counter-revolutionaries were shot, while the other half were forced into sacks, tied to large rocks, and thrown into Lake Honghu. They drowned alive.

It is said that local fishermen refused to fish in the lake for a long time after the purges, for what they caught were mainly dead bodies. Even the water of the vast lake changed color.

After the purges and battles with the Guomindang, public records show that the once 30,000-strong third Red Army had only 3,000 soldiers remaining. Those who were left didn’t dare become officers—an unusual phenomenon. These soldiers were afraid of being purged as they had witnessed with their higher-ranking officers.

When considering the wider historical background of the time, China was facing a national crisis.

Firstly, the Japanese invaded China in 1931, occupying three provinces in the east. However, the CCP in the north-east betrayed their country as it did not fully engage in the efforts to defend China against Japanese invasion.

In fact, any efforts by the CCP to hold back the Japanese army were to fulfil the motto “protect the Soviet Union.” At the time, the CCP was supported and directed by the Communist International—the Third International established by Vladimir Lenin.

By 1932, Japan had established the puppet state of Manchukuo.

Secondly, during the early 1930’s, ignoring the fact that the Guomindang was the legitimate government of the Republic of China, the CCP effectively established a “country within a country”—the Chinese Soviet Republic. It engaged in armed separatism, intent to overthrow the Republic of China through uprisings and violent revolution.

The region around Lake Honghu—the Honghu Soviet area—was one of the CCP’s three main Soviet areas. In reality, the CCP was actually taking advantage of China’s Japan crisis to expand its own power while doing enough that it appeared to be assisting the Guomindang fight the Japanese. It used every other opportunity to sow the seeds of communism anywhere it could.

History tells us that the CCP often used the label of “traitor” or “counter-revolutionary” to kill off the groups of people it was not satisfied with. As such, the CCP’s scripting of “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” opera that focused on its militarily resistance to the Guomindang does not capture the main historical issue at that time—the main issue then was the CCP’s brutal massacre that turned Lake Honghu red.

This issue is covered up by the CCP. If one wants to accurately depict the Red Guards of Lake Honghu, the key issue to address would be that tens of thousands of people were slaughtered by the Communists.

‘The Red Guards on Lake Honghu’ Is a Red Classic

One of the main cast members of “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” described the opera to SBS radio as a “red classic.” This term exposes the true nature of the opera. The characteristics such “red classics” have in common is that they all promote communism and violent revolution—they are products used to brainwash.

“The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” was first produced in 1958, and in 1959, it made its debut in Beijing where it was presented as a tribute on the CCP’s 10th anniversary of its rule. In 1961, it was adapted into a movie, and before the Cultural Revolution broke out, it had been performed over 100 times in China. During the Cultural Revolution, it was prohibited for a time, after which it was performed again in 1976, 1989 and 1998.

Judging from the times over the past few years where this opera has been performed in Beijing, this opera seems still to be considered one of the signature works that extol the accomplishments of the CCP. For example:

  • In 2012, it was one of the “18 tributes to the CCP”
  • In 2014, it was performed to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the CCP’s founding
  • On Oct. 1 2018, it was performed in Beijing, again to commemorate the anniversary when the CCP usurped power

This year, “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” has come to perform in Australia to commemorate its 60th anniversary. Various CCP bodies are describing the opera’s performance in Australia as a “global tour,” despite it only performing in the one country.

Repackaged Overseas to Deceive Chinese

The original name of the opera was “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu.” Yet in the adaptation to be performed in Australia, the term “Red Guards” has been omitted from all English marketing campaign.

This measure is taken to deceive Western society. In Western society, the term “Red Guards” is still perceived in a negative light, which is why the organizer doesn’t dare openly use it. But what is even more abominable is that this is something clearly about a violent communist regime, about the Communist Party’s history of killing, arson, and robbing. Yet now, it is being promoted on the Opera House website as a story about “freedom and hope.”

Another selling point promoted by the CCP is that the famous Australian conductor Vanessa Scammell will be a guest conductor in the opera. Vanessa had conducted for many famous operas before, and this time she would be conducting together with the conductor from Hubei Orchestra on the same stage. I don’t think she really knows what content is in the opera lyrics.

The CCP is using the method of “selling exports back to the locals” to deceive audiences back in mainland China.

Because the Sydney Opera House is Australia’s cultural icon, the CCP will make use of this opportunity to promote its “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” opera back home to the local Chinese, saying that it has been welcomed in the West and recognized by international society since it is being performed at the world’s top arts venue and stage, in collaboration with the most famous conductor in Australia.

Appropriating Folk Songs, Modifying Lyrics for Propaganda Material

The CCP has long emphasized the importance of the two “barrels”—the barrel of guns and the barrel of the pen. Here, the barrel of the pen refer to editing history, spreading lies, and brainwashing. All the cultural works produced by the CCP must serve it in the political sense, especially such a work like ‘The Red Guards on Lake Honghu,” which the CCP is strongly promoting. Such a work is definitely in line with the themes of political struggle, violence, and hatred of the time.

The opera “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu” contains many beautiful melodies. However, these melodies actually all originate from Chinese folk songs. The CCP just modified the lyrics so that they sing the party’s praises and achievements. Many melodies come from the Tianmen, Mianyang, Qianjiang regions in Hubei. For example, the melody of “waves beating on waves in Lake Honghu” comes from the Xiang river folk song “Xiang river ballad,” which was originally a song about the despair people felt when their lives are plagued with floods.

The lyrics of the last song in he opera were written for the CCP, of which “the gratitude to the CCP is deeper than the ocean to the east,” is obviously a political slogan. The last verse “the lives of fishermen are better year after year” is also at odds with reality.

Despite being the seventh largest freshwater lake in China and the largest lake in Hubei—due to the Three Gorges project and excessive land reclamation and farming—the water in Lake Honghu has become polluted and the ecosystem has been damaged. Compared to the beginning of the last century, the lake’s water area has decreased by two thirds. At one point, more than 70% of the water area was used for fence farming. Now the average depth of the water is only 1.35 m, and some areas are even too shallow for boats. As such, the lives of the fishermen at Lake Honghu has become much worse.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s when the Honghu film was made, people were rowing their boats past lotus roots and small ponds at the lake’s edge—the natural scenery was really beautiful. After the CCP’s few decades of rule, the ecosystem has been damaged to the point where even the water has gone. How can the lives of the fishermen be good? That’s why there is now a saying amongst the people there, “waves beating on waves nowhere in sight, fish and rice are scarce in the land of fish and rice.”

Another example is the song “Protect the Chinese Soviet Republic, protect the home” that was composed according to the tune of the drums of Mianyang. A verse in its lyrics goes “Everyone single-hearted in devotion to the Party, unite to become an iron and copper wall, rush to the battlefield with hatred in your heart, protect the Chinese Soviet Republic, protect the home.”

And in the song “No tears, no sorrow,” from the verse “no tears, no sorrow, only hatred full in your breast,” you can tell that communism is about promoting hatred and keeping power by injecting strong political overtones into a people’s folk music.

The CCP is about instigating hatred. Those who have been killed by it are the honest Chinese people who worked hard for their wealth—this is the real history behind “The Red Guards on Lake Honghu.”

Just as explained in The Epoch Times editorial “How the Spectre of Communism is Ruling Our World,” the CCP’s core is hatred, and through killing, it strengthens its evil grip. It has killed many who believed in its lies, people who were supposed to be revolutionary comrades.

The CCP has been deceiving Chinese people with its fabricated lies since its beginning, and now, it intends to do the same to the rest of the world.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.