Red songs ring out in Chinese city's new cultural revolution

 Published: 4/22/2011 8:46:04 AM GMT
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Road to Revitalisation may not sound like the most catchy name for a tune, but authorities in Chongqing are urging residents to sing along to it – and 35 more carefully selected "red songs".

The south-western Chinese city has launched the musical campaign to mark this year's 90th anniversary of the Communist party's birth.

Television and radio stations are broadcasting the tunes, newspapers are carrying the scores and officials are arranging public performances of Love of the Red Flag and Good Men Should Become Soldiers.

Officials are also urging artists to help train people "to raise a fever of singing red [revolutionary] songs," according to the People's Daily website.

The initiative is the latest phase in the "red culture movement" launched by the city's ambitious party boss Bo Xilai.

"Red songs won public support because they depicted China's path in a simple, sincere and vivid way," Bo said last year. "There's no need to be artsy-fartsy … only dilettantes prefer enigmatic works."

Chongqing television was recently ordered to drop popular soap operas and sitcoms. Instead, it airs improving material such as classic dramas and red song shows, reportedly leading to a sharp drop in ratings and advertising revenue.

Other initiatives include ordering students to work in the countryside and getting cadres to don Red Army uniforms and follow the path of their forebears "to deepen their understanding and experience of hardships".

While most expect Bo to be included in the top political body, the politburo standing committee, it is not clear what position he might take.

His other striking initiatives have included a mass drive to urbanise the population and a campaign against organised crime, which won him plaudits but raised concerns about the manner of the crackdown.

"He is a maverick. He has the confidence of his family background,"

Bo's father was a Communist "immortal", rehabilitated after the Cultural Revolution, in which Bo's mother died.

"Bo's approach appears to be gaining some traction among some very high-level leaders," said Beijing-based political analyst Russell Leigh Moses.

Several senior figures have visited Chongqing recently, notably Xi Jinping, the vice president expected to take the top job next year, who praised Bo's cultural drive.

Moses said: "Bo's campaign is multidimensional, but its primary objective seems to be trying to redefine local affairs as mass politics. [It] is not about policy as much as it is about a new communist theology that is nostalgic and not like anyone else's."

Brady said propaganda had changed so much in content as well as method that comparisons to Maoism were lazy.

When Bo invokes Mao Zedong in text messages to residents, instead of references to class struggle he chooses feelgood quotations such as: "The world is ours, we should unite for achievements."

"Some appear to have misunderstood the message in our campaign," Xu Chao, the official leading the red song drive, told the Global Times.

"'Red' doesn't only represent revolution, communism or socialism. It also includes elements that represent happiness, harmony, being positive and healthy. The term is actually quite inclusive."

There are no Mao-era songs on the 36-strong list and many are recent popular hits about loving one's family or one's nation. Go China! praises Olympicdiver Guo Jingjing, baseball star Yao Ming and film director Zhang Yimou rather than Communist cadres.

"It's definitely not on-message in terms of what was traditionally regarded as 'red'," said Brady. "I think a Cultural Revolution-era propagandist would be appalled."

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