During 岭南启示录 Apocalypse PRD, China didn’t celebrate forty years since the start of the Cultural Revolution, and for various reasons I never got around to mentioning it either, though it was a very prominent concern during the rehearsals and performance. Last year the performance of bitches was ‘coincidentally’ arranged to land on June 4th, and the PSB had many questions about the colour red for me. This year while rehearsing, I had some quite grotesque thoughts about our immediate future had we all been making art forty years prior. The same thoughts lurked during the performance.
If being a victim of even the lesser insanities of those ten years was a checklist, repeatedly I found myself ticking every new box, and if in the highly unlikely case this didn’t hold true for the performers and artists and audience directly, then merely by association a room of some 300 people were certainly going to be on the receiving end of some revolutionary fervor.
If that’s not speaking plainly enough, then my overarching feeling during that time was that every last one of us would be cold, dead corpses. If not for the art itself, then for intellectual aspirations, for being educated and intelligent, for being bourgeois, or whatever asinine fucking excuse serves to turn one person against another, or as is so stultifyingly common amongst dictatorships, because some of us are gay or bi or trannys.
As much as we’d all like to think China has changed – the ceaseless coda to each and every article on the period inflicts the trope that the barbarity ended with Mao’s death in 1976, my pessimistic opinion is that nothing really has, that skyscrapers and elevated highways and boutique shops are not a valid substitute for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that while a couple of million deaths and the destruction of entire cultures during the Cultural Revolution is recognised as a holocaust, half a million dying every year from the direct effects of rapacious capitalism has become somehow acceptable, because ‘they are trying to be like us’.
Some light reading:
The woman who sparked years of death and terror: Nie Yuanzi says the anniversary of the Cultural Revolution must not be ignored
The Fortieth Anniversary of the Cultural Revolution
Mao casts long shadow over China
Eyewitness: Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution memories fade
40 years on, the Cultural Revolution comes full circle
Negative images – Photographer risked all to document tyranny of China’s Cultural Revolution
The “textbook problem” – Ye Yonglie on Cultural Revolution education
Cultural Revolution? What revolution?
How “silent” were Chinese media on the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution? – China Media Project
How “silent” were Chinese media on the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution?
What China’s media minders had to say about the anniversary of the Cultural Revolution
The same cadres who starved more than thirty million farmers had stolen their land again. During the Mao Zedong reign, everything the peasants had to live on was taken by the state. Families had to visit collective kitchens with nothing to give. Anyone found cooking at home was beaten or worse. Cadres prowled through houses, searching for hidden grain or other essentials. An animal was a capital offense. Someone caught stealing resulted in the destruction of an entire family. Grain rotted in army storehouses or was shipped overseas as people dropped in the street. Some climbed hillsides and called to the heavens, begging their great helmsman to rescue them. Villages became collections of buildings with unburied bodies. During the Hu Jintao reign, the cadres took everything that remained. Not even houses were left. The land was sold for any proposal that could justify money. Loans were extracted from banks to build projects that were never expected to pay for themselves. When the loans did not perform, the banks were bailed out by the national government. In this manner, local officials stole both the land and the money that had once come from it. Villagers who knew better than to call from hilltops pooled their resources to avail themselves of the imperial petition system in Beijing. Once they got there, it was just as though they had gone nowhere. They had nowhere to go.