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)


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.


Cultural Revolution Negative Character False Appearance Amateur Performance Cigarette Packaging 
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    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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