China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview

E. Revolutionary Culture

What is culture? Postmodern anthropologists have characterized it as a "mysterious residual category" to which ",what we cannot understand is respectfully assigned."1Jiang Qing claimed in 1966 that it encompassed a wide range of phenomena, some of which were abstract and intangible--like notions of loyalty and integrity--and some of which were highly concrete, like stage plays, novels, paintings, opera, ballet, and poetry. In the course of the Cultural Revolution, she said, the linguistic forms or words (ci) that came with the existing culture would not necessarily have to be discarded, but their content (neirong) had to be radically transformed. Hence "workers, peasants, and soldiers, under the leadership of the Communist Party" were called upon to critically inherit rather than totally negate the present.

One of many cultural phenomena thus defined and "critically inherited" at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution was religion. Indirectly acknowledged with irony by the author of Document 37--an Australian language teacher in Shanghai--the persistence of a quasireligious discourse is quite pronounced in an official collection of "Revolutionary Aphorisms" praising Mao Zedong (Document 38) and in a Central Committee member's discourse on "how to be stupid for the collective, stupid for the people, and stupid for socialism" (Document 39).

With respect to material culture, official ideology was probably less important than the personal tastes of selected leaders. The aesthetic sensibilities of someone like Jiang Qing or Yao Wenyuan largely defined what was and what was not genuinely ",proletarian art" (Document 40). Mao's off-the-cuff remarks about not appreciating "potted flowers" (Document 41) were cited in support of a major reshaping of Beijing's public gardens. And, on a somewhat different note, his express appreciation of the Red Guard press was hailed, by the publishers

____________________
1
George E. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 39.

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