The West is Red: Uyghur Adaptation of The Legend of the Red Lantern (Qizil Chiragh) during China’s Cultural Revolution

  • Chuen-Fung Wong
Part of the Chinese Literature and Culture in the World book series (CLCW)


The production of the Uyghur version of The Red Lantern (Qizil chiragh; Chinese: Hongdeng ji) in the 1970s marked a crucial moment in the history of the musical involvement of minority nationalities during China’s “Great Cultural Revolution” (medeniyet zor inqilabi, 1966–76) in at least two important senses. First, the opera was played and sung entirely in the Uyghur language, with musical materials drawn extensively from traditional Uyghur music, and was accompanied by a mixed orchestra of Uyghur and European musical instruments. This represents a carefully controlled experiment for model Chinese (Peking) operas to be “transplanted” (özleshtürüp ishlengen; Chinese: yizhi) into minority languages and operatic genres to further the dissemination of “revolutionary messages” and to advance the principles and practices of socialist realism in minority performing arts. Second, to minority musicians involved in the project—many of whom had lately been labeled jin-sheytan (demon, Satan) and suffered different extents of abuses during the most violent phase of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s—the production of the opera came as a long-awaited opportunity to safeguard their national performing arts. This was achieved via means that were often modernist and reformist.


Minority Language Cultural Revolution Folk Song Minority Nationality Melodic Contour 
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© Chuen-Fung Wong 2016

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  • Chuen-Fung Wong

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