Category Archives: Cultural Revolution

“The significance of singing Red Songs”

Jottings from the Granite Studio has a guest post by Zhang Yajun talking about the Red Songs campaign that has struck up so much controversy. An interesting read:

Many ordinary Chinese of my parents’ generation wouldn’t think singing about the Party is anything new. They learned those revolutionary songs as teenagers and young adults during the Cultural Revolution. They sang them every day during the most important, formative, and unforgettable decade of their life. These songs mean a lot to them. For many people, the songs are the only ones they know how to sing and for which can remember the lyrics.

Once my husband and I were watching the documentary Morning Sun, which is about the Cultural Revolution. As soon as a revolutionary song started, my mom, who was cooking in the kitchen, started singing along. I have never heard her sing a pop song or love song. (When I asked her why, she said it was because she can’t remember any of those lyrics.) However, four decades after her miserable experience of heavy manual labor in a remote village during the Cultural Revolution, she can still remember every single word of those revolutionary songs. She couldn’t understand the English-language documentary, but the songs instantly brought her back to those days and her youth.

My mom is not alone. Every summer night, a group of middle-age people spontaneously gather around in our local park to sing for entertainment. Of course, all the songs they pick are Red Songs. I don’t think they intentionally do so because of party spirit, it is just they know those songs really well.

My parents’ generation witnessed one of the greatest transformations in Chinese history, but the changes often came at a cost and many were left behind during the Reform and Opening era. They may have lost their jobs in early 90’s during a restructuring or privatization of the SOE where they worked. They may not be able to afford an apartment for a son who is already past the marriage sell-by date. They are the ones who feel left out by the rapid change of this society. However, when they sing those songs, they can take comfort in a nostalgia they can share with other “old comrades.”

Sometimes it can be hard for me to understand their love of those songs. After all, many people suffered terribly during the Cultural Revolution. Many young people, like my aunties and my mom, were sent to poor and remote villages to be re-educated with heavy labor work for many years. Others couldn’t go to college because their parents were labeled as “bad elements.” Many families were ruptured when one family member accused another of being a counter-revolutionary. Some of those ruptures have never healed.

However, many decades later, many people still love those songs that they sung during one of the most difficult period of their lives and even those songs that praise the Party who caused all their pain. When I asked my dad about the reason, he said “Yes, back then people’s lives were really hard and poor, but at least everyone was equally poor and miserable. Right now, officials are corrupt and people all look toward money (向钱看). The gaps between the rich and poor are huge. The whole society has gone bad.”

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Filed under China, Cultural Revolution, Maoism