At 60th birthday, Chinese in nostalgia of 'red' arts

0 CommentsPrintE-mail xinhua, September 28, 2009
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On a rainy Saturday night, Kong Mingzhe rushed home from a private theater. His red Chairman Mao T-shirt was all wet.

Tired from hours of rehearsal for "Godot finally came", a modern sequel inspired by Irish dramatist Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot", he turned on the DVD player. It was one episode of a period TV series about a Chinese double agent who collected information in the Kuomintang for the Communist Party of China (CPC).

"I'm very curious about the revolutionary period of China and find it rather interesting," said the 24-year-old.

Apart from his regular job as an editor at one of the country's largest video websites, Kong is also in an avant-garde drama society and led a rock band back in college.

"Modern art is an effective way for us to express ourselves. But those red classics help me understand where did my life and the surroundings come from," the Shanghai native said.

Just days ago, he re-watched a 1964 classical feature, "the Guard under Neon Lights", which told a story about several soldiers of the People's Liberation Army sticking to revolutionary traditions in an exotic and seductive environment in Shanghai's early 1950s.

Kong is not alone in this red-themed nostalgia.

A student surnamed Chen from the Central Conservatory of Music said tears were streaming down her face as she was "way too overwhelmed" when watching the debut of a large-scale musical "Road to Revival" on Sunday.

The ambitious 150-minute musical, involving a total of 3,200 actors and singers, recounted the country's development from 1840 to 2009 in dedication to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the New China.

"I was one of the 90s generation. From a professional angle, the music, the dancing, the lighting and almost everything else were perfect. But most importantly, I felt so educated," said Chen.

Red, symbolizing luck and fortune in Chinese traditions, is also the main color of both the national ensign and the CPC's flag, representing a revolutionary spirit. Now it is widely used as a reference to anything related to the period of the early and middle 20th century when the CPC's army fought against Japanese invaders, battled the Kuomintang and led to the founding of the New China in 1949.

Red culture has long been considered the exclusive preserve of China's older generations who have been through that period or heard much from their parents. But now it's becoming a fashion for all ages.

According to a survey released early this month by the China Youth Daily, 95.7 percent of the 4,037 Chinese netizens said they liked to watch "red-themed" TV series and 49.3 percent loved them "very much".

"This year our station picked many red-themed dramas. The selection principle is the drama should reflect the historical changes about the New China from the angle of an ordinary person, thus drawing a common audience closer," said Zhang Xiao, editor-in-chief of the Beijing TV Station.

Zhang said dramas with a wide span of historical periods were specially preferred and most TV series broadcast recently were almost like historical and cultural record books.

Peng Jixiang, vice president of the Art College of the Peking University, said, "The popularity of the red dramas is very closely related to the country's social and economic development."

Peng said as the material needs were largely met, now young Chinese start to pursue more spiritual fulfillment in search of strong mental power.

According to the survey, 74 percent of the respondents thought the patriotic spirits conveyed through these dramas would never be out of date and 59.1 percent said "the passion for revolution is in accordance with young people's hardworking spirits nowadays."

The reminiscence is not limited to common people. In a recent blockbuster that recounted the founding of the New China, about 200 cinematic figures joined free of charge, including action star Jet Li and veteran director Chen Kaige.

In this film called "Jian Guo Da Ye", or "The Founding of a Republic," actress Zhang Ziyi was given a small but special role as a representative of grassroots women Party members who explained to Chairman Mao Zedong why she preferred the five-star red flag as the national ensign.

A record total of 1,450 copies of the film have been issued in domestic cinemas and the box office hit 15 million yuan (US$2.2 million) nationwide on its first day of screening.

In addition to the entertainment industry, China Guardian, one of the country's largest art auction firms, also see rich profits in "red".

For this autumn, the company will stage a red-themed artwork auction in November, including more than 20 paintings which were created during 1949 and 1976 and reflected the revolutionary period and the founding of the New China.

With bright colors and realistic paintings, most of these artworks have purposive compositions that make leaders and heroic figures stand out and concentrate on positive themes such as happiness, harmony and freedom.

An oil painting titled "Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan" (1968) was sold for 6.05 million yuan in 1995, which marked red-themed art's official entry into the mainland auction market.

In 2007, an oil painting titled "Eulogy of the Yellow River" by Chen Yifei, one of China's most acclaimed painters, was sold for a staggering 40.32 million yuan, setting a record in mainland oil painting auction market.

The work is a heroic portrait of a Chinese soldier standing beside the Yellow River.

Meng Luxin, a senior manager of the oil painting department of the China Guardian, said, "The painting methods of these works seem to be really far away from us and were mostly given up by contemporary artists. However, 'red' is one of the heritages from that special period and reflect the social situations and people's inner world back then."

"The value of the 'red' is irreplaceable," Meng added.

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