Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Banality of Singing Red: Secondary Production of Everyday Life in Chongqing's Red Culture Campaign

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Banality of Singing Red: Secondary Production of Everyday Life in Chongqing's Red Culture Campaign

Article excerpt

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Introduction

Chongqing, the sprawling, mountainous municipality In the hinterland of southwest China, has attracted enormous attention from home and abroad In recent years. Besides the dramatic political persecution of Its Party Secretary Bo Xilai since March 2012, f1) heated debate had been carried out on various social and economic policies executed under Bo's leadership. For example, a number of programmes were Implemented In the name of pursuing "common prosperity," such as the construction of 40 mil- lion m2 of affordable public housing, special assistance given to left-behlnd children and elderly In rural areas, policies to boost Income for rural house- holds, subsidies for micro-enterprises, etc. More eye-catching was a relent- less crackdown on organised crime, which evoked both approval from local residents applauding the significant Improvement of public security In the city, and heavy criticisms from China's legal community, accusing the au- thorities of violating legal procedures and tampering with human rights.!2) Equally controversial was the Red culture campaign (June 2008 - March 2012), which featured the four elements of "Singing Red, Reading Classics, Telling Stories, and Spreading Mottos" (chang du jiang chuan iliüötff).

Despite many public comments made on Chongqing's Red culture cam- paign, there Is a glaring lack of In-depth understanding of the discrepancies between the political message carried by the Red culture campaign and how people experienced the programme on the ground.The experience of local participants was often misrepresented In political analysis. Bo's sup- porters would argue that his policies adhered to socialist values and were supported by local people, <3) and therefore constitute a correct direction for China's future reforms In general.!4) His opponents, on the other hand, accuse the programme of bringing back the horror of the Cultural Revolu- tion, and argue that the masses were near-sighted and deceived by Bo's populist appeal.!5)The masses, who neither unanimously supported Bo nor collectively fell victim to cajolery or stupidity, often fell hostage to com- mentators' personal political convictions.

This paper treats the Red culture programme and the practice of Singing Red by the participants as two different conceptual entitles. The former refers to the blueprint of the programme designed by the Chongqing gov- ernment, whereas the latter refers to the actual social experience of the participants. In this paper, Inquiry focuses on one major group of partici- pants - retirees.!6) Singing and dancing as community activities have long been prevalent In local retirees' social life.!7) However, to qualify as the prac- tice of singing Red, activities need to be either organised by the government as part of the Red culture programme, or Identified as Red by the retirees themselves.This paper examines how the retirees experienced the Red cul- ture programme by Incorporating It Into their everyday routines, habits, and value systems, and how this process of Incorporation Interacted with the officially designed programme. Although the programme went bankrupt as Bo was sacked from his position, the ways In which It was organised and Implemented, and the ways In which It was actually received and appropri- ated by the public and ordinary participants, sheds light on long-term ques- tions about Ideological control by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the prospects for building a civic society, and Implications for the effectiveness of social and political reform In China.

Data utilised In this paper was collected during fieldwork conducted In Chongqing between October 2011 and March 2012.<8) Data was collected from 18 seml-structured Interviews with 23 retirees!9) and observations of their singing and dancing activities. Retiree participants consisted of people who were members of community art groups, I. …

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