Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

December 27, 2007

Mao suits and revolutionary dress

Here’s a fascinating little online exhibition from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney that charts the development of Chinese revolutionary dress, and in particular the Mao suit (zhifu).  It’s part of a larger virtual exhibition entitled Evolution and Revolution: Chinese dress 1700s-1990s.  Check out the page on the sartorial ideology of the Cultural Revolution as well.  When I was  much younger I desperately wanted to be a costume historian when I grew up.  Perhaps there’s still a chance!

(Via The Museum of Online Museums)

Modern Mao papercuts

To commemorate the Great Helmsman’s 114th birthday, Wu Suizhou, whom CCTV describes as a ‘folk artist’, has produced a set of papercuts.  The photographs on the CCTV website aren’t very clear (Xinhua is better), but it looks like he has chosen classic propagandist modes of representations of Mao and other communist icons as his models.  Indeed, there’s nothing very new here.  In the bottom right-hand corner in black is a papercut showing Mao, Lenin, Marx and Engels in profile.  This is a copy of similar papercuts available during the Cultural Revolution.  (The British Museum and Musee du Quai Branly have examples in their collections.)

December 22, 2007

More ethical concerns about Mao kitsch

Leading on from yesterday’s post, and also featuring a link which has sat overlooked on my desktop for far too long, is this blog post about the draw of Mao (and ‘Commie’) kitsch in both China and the West.  Also features a link to a small exhibition of Mao memorabilia held during 1998-1999, which I hadn’t previously come across.

I don’t feel there’s much point trying to analyse these posts too much.  They sum up my feelings about the appropriation of Communist iconography in popular cultural contexts perfectly.  Though, I have to admit, I bought a (reproduction) Mao badge in the British Museum shop last week.  Let’s call it ‘research’.  😉

LolMao…that made me smile!

I found thisages ago, and it’s been sitting on my desktop waiting for me to do something with it.  I think the author cogently expresses the ethical grey-area into which communist propaganda (as kitsch, or otherwise) falls.  Not to mention the fear of one’s intention by displaying this material being misinterpreted.  I enjoyed reading the comments best.  Particularly those suggesting that the poster of Mao be modified in a Duchamp kind of style.  Oh, the irony.  😉

December 10, 2007

Writing up – argh!

Filed under: My research — amyjaneb @ 3:38 pm

One of the reasons why I’ve been so quiet recently, is because I’ve been trying, desperately, to get some of this thesis written up.  And, in brilliant timing, I came across the following book, thanks to Mary’s recommendation:

Patrick Dunleavy.  2003.  Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation.  Palgrave MacMillan.

What a godsend!  It’s absolutely brilliant (clearly all the reviewers on Amazon think so too!).  Thanks to Prof. Dunleavy I now have the words to describe the methodological thrust of my written-up research;  my thesis going to take an analytic, plus descriptive approach.   To fully appreciate what that means, you’ll have to read the book.  But, suffice to say, it’s going to take a little bit of work to turn my current purely descriptive chapters into something a little more ‘analytic’. 

Actually,the plan for my thesis has always been to start with case studies and open out in a broader narrative, weaving in some theory and historical stuff – I just didn’t know how I was going to achieve it.  But this book really does give clear advice about how to ‘author’ a thesis to best show off your original research.  I think it could, over the next six months or so, become my bible!

December 3, 2007

No comment is necessary…

Filed under: Uncategorized — amyjaneb @ 1:25 pm

_44276748_nashi_afp203in.jpg …methinks.

(Image from BBC News Online.)

November 3, 2007

OMG!1!!!

The BM is stealing my ideas!!!  😉 

Seriously, could be an absolutely fascinating exhibition if it comes off.

October 19, 2007

The Red Detachment of Women (1970)

I’ve been neglecting this blog recently.  Mainly because my final year has crept up on me, and the ensuing panic has caused me to devote a little more time to actually writing-up my damn thesis!  But I have been watching The Red Detachment of Women on DVD (in two sittings – the casts’ endless ‘determined fists’ get a little wearing after a while!).

Well, I can see why this and the other revolutionary operas were so appealing to audiences.  I know very little about ballet, but the performance of the cast is clearly dazzling (unsurprising given the harsh regime meted out by studios – read Anchee Min’s Red Azalea for more details), the score is rousing and colours vivid (and of course, red predominates).  Added to that is the fact that there would have been very little ‘entertainment’ available during the Cultural Revolution, making the opportunity to see a film – regardless of its propagandist content – a real treat.

The story is a fairly formulaic, gender-role reversed take on good vs. evil; girl escapes from dastardly landlord, hero saves girl, girl joins the Red Army (okay, that’s not in the vein of most classic stories!), girl leads her detachment into battle, hero is injured but survives only to be captured by evil landlord, girl single-handedly does for evil landlord and saves the hero, the masses are liberated by the victorious Red Army, etc, etc,.  Added to that is the propagandist sub-plot, i.e. join the Red Army, it’ll be fantastic.  You’ll have a great time (much like the adverts for the forces currently shown on TV!), plenty to eat and the locals will think you’re great!  Plus, if you’re a woman, you’ll get to wear a natty knee-length shorts with leg warmers combo (a sartorial choice which had no – as far as I am aware – basis in reality).  A half-arsed attempt at ‘sexing’ up the film to appeal to the masses, perhaps?  Seems a rather bizarre decision for the costume designers to take, given that they were working in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, with its emphasis on androgyny and desexualisation of women.  Still, having said that, cultural supremo, Jiang Qing, was a rather peculiar woman herself.

Of course, Mao’s famous proclamation that ‘women hold up half of the sky’ is the basis for this tale, and – perhaps – for the reversal of roles between the male and female heroes. In many ways it is a celebration of women; overcoming the barriers, restrictions and mistreatment imposed upon by men (some men – not their enlightened male comrades in the Red Army, of course).

 Another interesting aspect of the film I’ve noted, refers back to Bright Sheng’s comments in the radio interview I’ve blogged about before.  The strange mixing of traditional and Western elements in the production of these revolutionary ballets, which seems at odds with the ethos behind the diktats imposed on practitioners working in other creative fields.  The influence of Western ballet is unmistakable here, as is the only slight adaptation (the inclusion of occasional ‘bursts’ from traditional Chinese instruments) of Western classical music for the score.

Anyway, back to the film itself… I’m not certain how available this, and the other revolutionary operas are in Britain.  This copy came from China.  Thankfully, this is where YouTube, as a research tool, excels

The heroine escapes and hides in the forest from the landlord’s henchmen:

After suffering a brutal beating at the hands of the landlord’s henchmen, the heroine stumbles upon a detachment of the army…

An ensemble piece which follows the detachment’s assault on the landlord’s compound:

Enjoy!

Oh, and finally, I should apologise for the rather strange appearance of Cogs and Wheels at the moment.  I’m working on a re-design.  🙂

October 6, 2007

A Soviet Poster A Day

Filed under: Images, Material culture/art & design, Propaganda, USSR — amyjaneb @ 9:39 pm

A Soviet Poster A Day is a great little blog; simple, yet offers a very effective way of presenting propaganda posters to external and non-specialist audience.  In particular I concur with the comments in the introduction, that…

 …every Soviet Poster has a historical reference essential for understanding the layers of meanings it carries through time.

Which is, of course, so true for propaganda posters and political art more widely, i.e. that we can appreciate these posters as examples of graphic design, but to really understand them, as their original audience would have done, we need also to consider them as historical documents, and have access to contextualising information (be it interpretive, or historical text; film; oral history recordings, etc).  We need to be able to decipher the symbolism, ‘get’ the cultural or political references, ‘read’ the slogan.  Something exhibition designers could do well to remember!

September 29, 2007

Seen by a friend in Berlin…

Filed under: GDR, Humour, Uncategorized — amyjaneb @ 11:15 am

810c.jpg

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