The Art of Cloning: Creative Production During China's Cultural Revolution



The Art of Cloning: Creative Production During China's Cultural Revolution Cultural Production Under Mao, And How Artists And Thinkers Found Autonomy In A Culture Of ConformityIn The S, A French Journalist Joked That The Chinese Were Blue Ants Under The Red Flag, Dressing Identically And Even Moving In Concert Like Robots When The Cultural Revolution Officially Began, This Uniformity Seemed To Extend To The Mind From The Outside, China Had Become A Monotonous World, A Place Of Endless Repetition And Imitation, But A Closer Look Reveals A Range Of Cultural Experiences, Which Also Provided Individuals With An Obscure Sense Of FreedomIn The Art Of Cloning, Pang Laikwan Examines This Period In Chinese History When Ordinary Citizens Read Widely, Traveled Extensively Through The Country, And Engaged In A Range Of Cultural And Artistic Activities The Freedom They Experienced, Argues Pang, Differs From The Freedom, Under Western Capitalism, To Express Individuality Through A Range Of Consumer Products But It Was Far From Boring And Was Possessed Of Its Own Kind Of Diversity

10 thoughts on “The Art of Cloning: Creative Production During China's Cultural Revolution

  1. says:

    Totalitarismo was first applied very critically to Fascsit Italy by Giovanni Amendola in 1923 By 1932, when Giovanni Gentile was ghost writing the long delayed proclamation of the Fascist dogma for Mussolini the Dottrina del Fascismo , he enthusiastically co opted the notion As with many political concepts of the XXth century, totalitarianism is the result of a peculiar cooperation between illiberal regimes and their political opponents as attested by Brzezinski s post war elaboration of Totalitarismo was first applied very critically to Fascsit Italy by Giovanni Amendola in 1923 By 1932, when Giovanni Gentile was ghost writing the long delayed proclamation of the Fascist dogma for Mussolini the Dottrina del Fascismo , he enthusiastically co opted the notion As with many political concepts of the XXth century, totalitarianism is the result of a peculiar cooperation between illiberal regimes and their political opponents as attested by Brzezinski s post war elaboration of the idea in which monopoly on weapons is one of the six defining traits of the totalitarian regime , totalitarianism was crucial in defining negatively the boundaries of democratic liberalism In the particular case of Fascist Italy, it is now widely acknowledged that despite originating the term, Mussolini never came close to achieving his program of Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state Most visibly in the field of architecture, the regime in fact practiced some degree of pluralism, whether as strategy or compromise In a sense, then, totalitarianism was a collaborative project of myth making, in which the liberals picture of their political Other converged with the Fascist bombastic self image With this said, however, though there exist a probably irreducible civil and popular component to most dictatorships, there is no doubting regimes did pursue the totalitarian dystopia, as attested by terms like Gleichhaltung , or indeed Yiyuanhua in China This term has been used to describe the process of centralisation and coordination of culture and politics in China in other words, the very transition toward totalitarianism Totalitarian projects, however, remain invested in radical change while totalitarianism evokes images of perfect coordination and deathly stasis, the Terror, the March on Rome or even Stalinism all conceived of unanimity and order as means to the end of revolution of radical change Mao and his movement wavered continuously between a glorification of the masses as sole source of knowledge and legitimacy, and the systematic attempt at shaping and educating them This ambivalence of the Cultural Revolution can be read in different ways as political wavering reflecting the ebbs and flows of leadership struggles, as the result of Mao s own uncertainties or instability, or as an inbuilt contradiction in the concept of revolution itself All those factors probably played a role, but the book s approach focuses on the third one To Pang Laikwan, teaching Cultural Studies in Hong Kong, yiyuanhua implies both the integrity of the whole and the autonomy of the parts voluntarily submitting to a central spirit 10 The Art of Cloning sets out to emphasise the tension between those two aspects, bringing to the fore the constitutive contradictions of the Cultural Revolution, and showing how they both produced and occulted difference To the average Western eye, the most dramatic and striking aspect of the Cultural Revolution 1966 76 is probably the overwhelming sense of uniformity, both in terms of the objects or images that reached our shores, and in terms of the homogeneous and unanimous masses who produced them The system through which uniformity was achieved Laikwan terms social mimesis , a difficult process of individuals being coerced into the political order and individuals longing for identification with others in the midst of fierce competition and antagonism 10 Not only was this quest for conformity bottom up as well as a feat of social engineering, offering short lived promises of stability in a world in constant upheaval, but it was also ultimately self defeating, because imitation involves transformation As such the performative dimension of mimesis might sustain order, but it also make change possible 13 Laikwan wonders By promoting copying, how much did Maoist society advocate conformity, and how much did alterity actually result from this 13 The foremost model to be imitated the Chairman himself, although other characters real mofan or fictional yangban were developed An anecdote reported by the author later in the book captures particularly vividly how those inbuilt contradictions could be revealed or even subvert themselves The single legitimate poet was, of course, Mao himself, and various versions of his poetry collections were sold in the millions in China Allegedly 2.1 billion single sheets of Mao s slogans and poetry were printed as posters during the Cultural Revolution, but there were only about thirty poems by Mao officially published in the 1964 version of Poetry of the Chairman Mao, which was far too few to satisfy the eager and huge readership A volume of unpublished poems by Chairman Mao, containing a further twenty four of his poems, was discovered in China in 1966 overnight, it came to be considered the most precious gift from Mao to his people, who not only read and recited the poems but organized workshops to study them together Some estimate there werethan ten versions of the manuscript circulating in Peking University alone they quickly reached the universities and institutions around the country in the form of handwritten manuscripts or mimeograph copies In the beginning people had no doubt about the authenticity of these works, the romantic writing style of which was very much akin to that of Mao It was quickly discovered that these poems were not written by Mao but by an intellectual youth, Chen Mingyuan, who wrotethan ten of them but was unaware of how his work came to be considered Mao s These poems continued to circulate underground, and gained many sincere admirers among the readers of all over the country, even after their counterfeit status was discovered But this case study also shows how propaganda broke down As shown in the generic Maoist style of Chen Mingyuan s poems, he was conscious not to call attention to his unique poetic self but followed the narrowly accepted model But when his poems were condemned as faked, his own authorship was immediately unveiled, condemned, and aggrandizedThe system collapsed when the tacit copying, as public secret, was disclosed, which also immediately displayed the systematic differentiation between writing like Mao and writing as Mao 71 72 Here, then, we see how cultural production through imitation could expose its own contradiction, but the same was true of cultural reception Laikwan writes In its own contradictory way, this highly controlled propaganda was not a top down mechanism, but we see how the people traveled around and struggled to learn and create the propaganda, making it open ended, not a cessation of all mental work 15 Here is a delightful example so delightful in form and content, as to beggar belief of the cunning of the market, which she quotes from the recollections of Han Shaogong Mao badges were extremely popular at one time, and new designs were widely pursued immediately after they were released One big porcelain badge could be exchanged with five or six small aluminium badges One alloy steel bowl sized badge can be traded for three or four porcelain or bamboo badges But after a while, the badge heat subsided, and boys began to be interested in military items As a result, an 80 percent new army hat was worththan ten badges, and one needed two or three stamp books to buy a four pocket military uniform A while after, Shanghai made Huili sneakers became the fashion, particularly those in white color, which could be traded in for a transistor radio plus a pair of military pants, or one double sided ping pong bat with a few machine gun bullets 212 After a short introduction, the next two chapters explore the aesthetics of the artistic and literary production during the Cultural Revolution, and their reception and circulation as well as the role they played in the Maoist system The third chapter discusses the notion of model, and how it simultaneously attempted to homogenise Chinese society, yet also produced independent solidarity and undermined its own message Chapter four studies one of those models in some details, the generally female barefoot doctor , manifested in literature, visual propaganda and film or theatre, with the Party s own contradictory demands on women Chapter five examines how the yanbangxi, the model opera produced by the state and given a virtual monopoly during the revolution, were transplanted and adapted in China s many provinces, focusing on Guangdong Chapter six is another case study concerned with the importation of ballet and its derived products, as well as the officials struggle to keep at bay its erotic undertones.Chapter seven concern itself with the Mao cult and Mao s own wavering rejection of it, showing how the proliferation of his image ultimately trivialized both his authority and doctrine Chapter eight traces the origin of the ghost trope to describe one of the Cultural Revolution s most detested internal enemies, the Maoist intellectual Laikwan has selected a very interesting angle for her book, and in our times when spectacular if superficial individuality is the key requirement for social and economic success, an investigation of conformity, with its pleasures and promises as well as its dangers, sounded very enticing What she provides however went beyond my expectation, as she emphasise how the mechanisms the State mobilised to enforce or at least encourage this conformity, ultimately undermined themselves The liberal narrative, with its story of self willed and divinely autonomous individuals, has long been chasing its own tail, and we might be witnessing a shift in conceptions of identity, as some for better or worse recognise that by its very nature it can only be produced collectively Laikwan offers us a reminder that social and cultural engineering has pitfalls of its own, not only because it can sabotage its own utopia but also because the collective is only ever a collection of individuals In hindsight, the Cultural Revolution was not devouring its children for once, it were the children devouring the Revolution The work is not wholly free from the strictures of cultural studies there is the occasional indulgence in value added jargon i.e there is a strong epistemological desire to come up with an accurate figure for the death toll of the Cultural Revolution , p 22 and the Laikwan often sacrifies general context to picturesque anecdotes and critical theory name dropping While the later sometimes feels extraneous and cosmetic, it is largely limited to the first few chapters setting up her theoretical frame work, which is otherwise strong, original and very clear The picturesque anecdotes, on the other hand, are at the very least half the fun of the book Her focus on the peculiar and particular at the expense of the quantitative or typical has left me longing for astraightforward history of the period, yet so many of her quotes and examples are striking and fascinating, revealing of and revelling in the kafkaian and paradoxical character of Chinese daily life in those times Despite being clearly revisionist in its scope, the book does not engage in endless squabbles with the historiographic establishment in fact, it does a great job at putting forward its argument in positive form, arguing through examples and theories, rather than unpicking the a nebulous accepted narrative and conducting academic feuds Instead of deploring the monolithic view of the period in existing scholarship, she acknowledges the need to emphasise the crimes and dismal consequences of the Cultural Revolution, and deplores the PRC s institutionalised amnesia Though it might be handy to have at least some grasp of Chinese history I was glad I d read a couple of books on the subject before starting this one and the book would probably be better appreciated still by someonefamiliar than me with the Cultural Revolution, the book I think can be understood and appreciated without much knowledge of cultural studies or contemporary theory I am certain I will return to it, at least as much for its concepts as for its stories

  2. says:

    Brilliant book about the interaction of order and chaos during the cultural revolution The author analyzes the impossibility of the government s attempt to impose on a society settled patterns of revolutionary identity She describes how, while copying such patterns, people developed various understandings of these which, eventually, emptied them of meaning She also describes how the initial intent of eliminating the social differences within society by reversing social roles resulted in destr Brilliant book about the interaction of order and chaos during the cultural revolution The author analyzes the impossibility of the government s attempt to impose on a society settled patterns of revolutionary identity She describes how, while copying such patterns, people developed various understandings of these which, eventually, emptied them of meaning She also describes how the initial intent of eliminating the social differences within society by reversing social roles resulted in destroying the institutions which sustained social order and thus any sort of social security People reacted to this by emotionally distancing themselves from the revolution Overall a very interesting analysis on how an attempt to direct a revolution from above could not work and on how extreme politicization could not but depoliticize the society

  3. says:

    Top drawer scholarship A perpetual flow of insightful analysis of the aesthetics and politics of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, notable for Pang s capacity to transcend the ossified perspective presented to Western readers of exclusively the horrors visited upon the elite during this decade If you have an open mind or are open to having an open mind, I recommend reading this perspective shifting work.

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