Monday, March 29, 2010

Making revolutionary art is not a crime

As Women's History Month comes to a close, I've been thinking about one of the greatest women revolutionaries of the 20th century, Jiang Qing, who was born in March of 1914. As a key leader of the Cultural Revolution, the momentous effort to eradicate creeping social inequalities in the second decade after the victory of Chinese Revolution, Jiang Qing made particular contributions in the realm of people's art. She had been an actor in her youth, and throughout her life remained concerned with the thorny questions of how to create art that, as I termed the goal a few blog posts ago, both soars and serves the revolution. For example, she championed the ballet Red Detachment of Women. I've always hoped I'll get a chance to see a performance of this beautiful work of proletarian culture. Maybe I will.

In 1966, at a mass rally attended by tens of thousands of workers in Beijing, Jiang Qing said:
To weed through the old to let the new emerge means to develop new content which meets the needs of the masses and popular national forms loved by the people. As far as content is concerned, it is in many cases out of the question to weed through the old to let the new emerge. How can we critically assimilate ghosts, gods and religion? I hold it is impossible, because we are atheists and Communists. We do not believe in ghosts and gods at all. Again, for instance, the feudal moral precepts of the landlord class and the moral precepts of the bourgeoisie, which they considered to be indisputable, were used to oppress and exploit the people. Can we critically assimilate things which were used to oppress and exploit the people? I hold it is impossible, because ours is a country of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We want to build socialism. Our economic base is public ownership. We firmly oppose the system of private ownership whereby people are oppressed and explotied. To sweep away all remnants of the system of exploitation and the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of all the exploiting classes is an important aspect of our great proletarian cultural revolution.
At her 1980 "trial" at the hands of the "market socialism" grouping that had wrested control in China after the death of Mao Zedong, Comrade Jiang Qing proclaimed, "Making revolution is not a crime."

Neither is making revolutionary art.

Jiang Qing: Live like her! Long live the spirit of proletarian culture that she embodied, fought and died for.