“Revolution” as the most Important Factor Shaping Chinese Literature, Film and Art since 1949

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“Revolution” as the most Important Factor Shaping Chinese Literature, Film and Art since 1949

If it was possible to analyze each and every aspect of the modern China, there would be no end to the endeavor; therefore, it is possible to limit the description to just ten words. As a matter of fact, the word “revolution” is the most important factor shaping the Chinese literature, film, and art since 1949. The factor of “revolution” influenced absolutely all spheres of human life. Therefore, both the book Execution of Mayor Yin and the movie Still Life are affected by the “revolution”, but they actually demonstrate different sides of the Cultural Revolution as such.

In fact, after 1949, when the Communist Party came to power, it self-confidently held its obligation to carry out revolution to the fullest. At that point, of course, revolution no longer meant armed struggle as much, as it meant series of political movements, each inquiring extreme perishes in the period of the Great Leap Forward together with the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, the life may be seen as the “example of the revolutionary violence, which actually recalls the Cultural Revolution” (Hua, 2011, pp. 113-114). The Cultural Revolution was about to tear down the “four olds”, including old culture, old customs, old habits, and old thought.

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Since the Communists came to power in 1949, Chinese art has seen extraordinary changes. As a matter of fact, during the period of thirty years, the Party mechanism and its Marxist-Maoist outlook demonstrated such a dense superintendence over the cultural life that it is normal for the art of that period to be originally seen as a repulsion or uttering of political forces. Actually, the art, including literature and film industry, had to serve the cause of revolution and mass education.

Chinese literature and film industry were impacted by the revolution, as the main factor, but they have different emphases. On the one hand, Ruoxi Chen wrote a work, named The Execution of mayor Yin, which is currently considered to be a classic of modern world literature. In fact, this collection of stories provides a flamboyant and excruciating bystander outlook of the daily life in China in the period of Cultural Revolution. Each chapter tells the tale of an individual or family that has been adversely impacted by the Revolution. It actually depicts the disturbance, which practically surrounds the alterations, which have been caused by the Revolution itself.

The first chapter tells the story of Mayor Yin, who has been a once respected member of the community, whose pre-communist background leads to his execution. The main problem with his background was the fact that he fought for Chiang Kai-shek, even though he brought his entire military unit over to Mao Zedong’s cause. The revolution caused the establishment of a local Red Guard organization, which called on all citizens and students to rise up and join the revolution, pointedly urging all political cadre men to purify themselves by fire and carry out the revolutionary duties voluntarily (Chen, 2004). The second chapter narrates about the parents’ anxiety concerning their children. It practically demonstrates the case of Jing-Jing, as they were caught, while making anti-Mao comments, even despite the fact that the comments were innocent. Yu Hua (2011) explained this by the fact that Revolution and combats were followed by the lauds and the chorus “Long Live Chairman Mao” (p. 122). That was a very important aspect of the Cultural Revolution as such. The third chapter shows the existence of people in a re-education camp, depicting the squander of performance, service, and intelligence, which have been grounded on the vapid oratory provided by the Revolution. The chapter is concentrated on an honored scientist, who has to spent his time creating raw kerosene radiators from the waste metal. This fact is also explained by Yu Hua (2011), as all the people employed in the urban sector had to “put aside their regular jobs and went off to smelt steel” (p. 115). The fourth chapter, which demonstrates the story of an attractive, and possibly adulterous, young woman, serves to show the way personal business became everyone’s business in the hyper-observant atmosphere of the Revolution. The fifth chapter exemplifies how individuals fall into and out of favor during the Revolution, depending what faction was in power, using the “suicide” of a once respected leader of the Revolution that was forced into the re-education, when another group took power. The sixth chapter utilizes the humiliation of an old man buying a fish at market only to be forced to return that fish, as an example of stocking markets for the appearance of plentiful goods, not for consumption (Chen, 2004). The seventh chapter illustrates the isolation and loneliness returning Chinese experienced, while also demonstrating the way the recognized missteps of one’s family members affected each person. Geng Er is not fully accepted by the Chinese society, because of the fact that he has spent some time abroad, while his love interest, Xiao Jin, is believed to be a less than ideal bride, due to the fact that her parents have been landlords right before the Revolution (Chen, 2004). The last chapter utilizes a Nixon’s Press Corps visit in order to exemplify the Chinese policy, which actually puts on a faulty impress of regime and neatness. In fact, inhabitants of a building complex are ordered to willfully remove the homemade drying racks on the off chance that a reporter will visit (Chen, 2004). In fact, the chapters of the book are short and stand alone, allowing the instructor to use individual chapters as lessons for the specific issues surrounding the Cultural Revolution. The stories, which can be found in this book, provide the reader with the real world samples of the issues that are connected with the Cultural Revolution as such.

On the other hand, there is a movie directed by Jia Zhangle, which is called Still Life. Despite the fact that in the foreground the film depicts the story of the two people searching for their spouses in order to clarify their lives, the film demonstrates demolition and resettling in the background. All of them are the result of revolution. The movie depicts the backside of the China’s economic growth.  The places demonstrated in the film are left in ruins. The film frames the progress and revolution in real time and it is a way of withstanding the test of destruction in the present tense. In fact, China’s economy has raced forwards and violence reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution has taken place not only on the popular level, but also with the official backing. In fact, “urbanization has been pursued, meaning the huge swathes of old housing razed in no time at all and replaced in short order by high-rise buildings” (Hua, 2011, p. 126). These large-scale demolitions can make Chinese cities look as though they have been the “targets of a bombing raid” (Hua, 2011, p. 126).  Thus, behind the whole situation demonstrated in the film, there is a development model saturated with revolutionary violence of the Cultural Revolution type. In fact, Yu Hua (2011) believes that in order to suppress popular discontent and resistance, some local governments send in large numbers of police to haul away any residents, who refuse to budge. Afterwards, a dozen or more bulldozers will advance in formation, knocking down a block-full of old houses in no time at all. Resident had no other option except accepting the housing offered (p. 127). Nevertheless, the movie did not demonstrate bulldozers, as everyone was working by hand, using hammer in order to demolish houses and building. A coalminer, Han Sanming, who was searching for a wife, works in a demolition crew, tearing down buildings. The movie demonstrates serious contrasts of the revolution. On the one hand, it shows depressive views of demolished buildings, gang fights, and negligence of high-evolved professions; on the other hand, it depicts high-developed technology in the form of greatly illuminated solid bridge. Life is not evaluated at all, as people might be killed in local strives for work, while intimidating the inhabitants of a rival piece of real estate, while demolishing buildings, or working in coal mines. Moreover, the main character, Han Sanming, has to pay 30, 000 RMB in order to cover the debt to take his ex-wife, who left him, to Shanxi (Zhangle, 2006). Therefore, the movie demonstrates that life is equal to money. Moreover, life is less valuable than progress and the revolution itself. 

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All of the episodes, demonstrated both by the book and the movie, remind the saying by Mao Zedong. In fact, according to Yu Hua, he offered a memorable definition of what revolution means, and it is particularly relevant during the Cultural Revolution. Thus, according to Mao Zedong,

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence” (Hua, 2011, p. 130).

Revolution was the factor, which shaped and changed all Chinese people’s lives. That is the main reason, why this factor may be considered as the main and the most important for the shaping of the Chinese literature, film, and art since 1949. Revolution altered the life; therefore, it altered the view on life, which is demonstrated by the art.