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Breaking Bad: Sabotaging the Production of the Hero in the Amateur Performance of Yangbanxi

  • Laurence Coderre
Part of the Chinese Literature and Culture in the World book series (CLCW)

Abstract

The heroes of the “model works” of the Cultural Revolution, the ycmgbcmxi, were well-nigh ubiquitous in the People’s Republic during the 1966–1976 decade. They appeared in nearly every conceivable form, from feature films to cigarette packaging to everyday “real life.” This chapter examines what we might regard as a key technology of this mass (re)production and remediation of revolutionary models: amateur performance, as carried out in the context of the ycmgbcmxi popularization campaign (dali puji ycmgbcmxi), which officially began in July 1970. I consider the discursive attention given to the “proper” training of the amateur’s body, the relevant “medium” for this particular technology, and the fantasy of perfect correspondence between the molding of the body and the molding of the person as a whole—between “appearance” and “essence”—on which this (re)production process is predicated. In quite possibly his most important act of sabotage, however, the figure of the yangbanxi villain reveals this fantasy for what it is: thriving on and creating doubt in a world of certainty, he forces us to ask whether even the most revolutionary-seeming among us might really be something else entirely.

Keywords

Cultural Revolution Negative Character False Appearance Amateur Performance Cigarette Packaging 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 6.
    For a discussion of amateur theater in China from 1949 to 1966, see Colin Mackerras, Amateur Theatre in China, 1949–1966 (Canberra: ANU Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    See Ellen ludd, “China’s Amateur Drama: The Movement to Popularize the Revolutionary Model Operas,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 15(1) (1983): 26–35.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    For many examples of this, see Paul Clark, The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    See, for example, Xiaomei Chen, Acting the Right Part: Political Theater and Popular Drama in Contemporary China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002), 120–121Google Scholar
  5. Ban Wang, The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), 214.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Teri Silvio, “Animation: The New Performance?” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 20(2) (2010): 422–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 13.
    J. David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 45.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    As translated in Ellen ludd, “Prescriptive Dramatic Theory of the Cultural Revolution,” in Drama in the People’s Republic of China, edited by Constantine Tung and Colin Mackerras (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987), 95.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    See, for example, Xiao Congshu, Geming xiandai jingju xue chang changshi jieshao (Introduction to the Fundamentals of Learning How to Sing Revolutionary Modern Peking Opera) (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1975), 54.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Alexei Yurchak, Everything was Forever, Until It was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    Barbara Mittler also reminds us of the enduring polysemy of “propaganda” of all sorts during the Cultural Revolution. See Barbara Mittler, A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013).Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    Ding Lin, “Women de gongtong zeren” (Our CommonResponsibility), in Bi tan Lin hai xue yuan (On Tracks in the Snowy Forest) (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1961), 26.Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    My translation. Tao Youzhi, “”Yiyang” yu “bu yiyang”—tan xianxiang he benzhi” (“Alike” and “Unalike”—On Appearance and Essence), in Xue yangbanxi, tan bianzhengfa (Study the Tangbanxi, Discuss Dialectics), edited by Gong Xueli (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1974), 33–34.Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    As I have argued elsewhere, the lack of specificity should not necessarily be understood as a failure to deliver a particular propagandistic message. On the contrary, in some cases, vagueness can, in and of itself, be used as a rhetorical tool. In this instance, the “enemies” of the yangbanxi are potentially so broadly construed as to be anyone and everyone, which is precisely the point. See Laurence Coderre, “Counterattack: (Re)contextualizing Propaganda,” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 4(5) (2010): 211–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Laurence Coderre 2016

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  • Laurence Coderre

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