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TV show on red songs made a big stir
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East China's Jiangxi Province is a place deeply connected to the country's revolution. The Nanchang Uprising in 1927, which is regarded as the founding day for the People's Liberation Army (PLA), began in Jiangxi's capital. Also, the picturesque Jinggangshan Mountains was the Communist Party of China's first revolutionary base.

Scenes from the popular show Red Songs Gala. Inset: File photo featuring child star Zhu Xinyun in the 1974 film Sparkling Red Star.

This autumn, the region once again witnessed a revolution - a TV revolution. While people are getting tired of Super Girls and Boys, Red Songs Gala (Hong Ge Hui), a contest show featuring melodies from the early 1920s and the period after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, made a big stir.

Yan Su, a 77-year-old army composer, defines Red Songs as compositions that have grown up with our country.

"They are songs melted in our blood. They are songs on 'main themes' (referring to tributes paid to the Party, army and common people)," he says.

Some Red Songs are from old "main theme" films. Their exciting lyrics and delicate melodies are still popular today and are often sung during karaoke.

Featuring contestants like an 80-year-old man and a 9-year-old girl, the show was the top-rating program in Jiangxi on the National Day holiday. Although it finished in mid-October, it is still being talked about.

Cultural critic Deng Luping attributes the show's success to the songs' popularity.

"Old people recall their common memories, and the middle-aged sing stories told by their mothers, while young people are attracted by the show's form, which is very much like Super Girls or American Idol," he says. "At the same time, the songs themselves are of high quality. The fact they are still sung today proves they are classics."

The contest's judges are all senior singers or composers, many of whom have written or sung the songs themselves.

A mutual characteristic of these songs is that they rarely open with praise or admiration. Liuyang River (Liuyang He), a song about Chairman Mao Zedong, is a well-known example. The Hunan folk song depicts the Xiangjiang River, and then goes on to describe a nearby town, where Mao was born. The line "Mao is like the red sun in our hearts" is not sung until the last verse.

According to Yan, the Red Songs also draw young people because of the passion they inspire.

"These songs, which were composed in the red revolutionary eras, even make me, a 77-year-old man, feel excited," he says.

Yan's two grandchildren's favorite performer used to be Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou, but after seeing the show they started crooning the Red Songs too. The grandfather sees this as representative of China's spiritual heritage being passed to a young generation.

Wan Shanhong, a prestigious opera singer, agrees.

"Singing the Red Songs not only summons old people's collective memory of days past, it also reminds young people not to forget history."

The show is awash with "red characteristics". The regions where the contest is held are all old revolutionary bases, such as the Jinggangshan Mountains. In every show, there is a session where witnesses of the red era share their stories. During one of these segments, an old soldier talked about being operated on without anesthetic after a battle.

In China, Red Songs and films about the revolution were previously thought to be unpopular. But Deng, a critic who has been in the entertainment industry for decades, says the show has proved this theory wrong.

"Those who still doubt the popularity of the Red Song gala must have not seen how hot the red tourism is in Jinggangshan Mountains these years," he says. "When the old and young sing these songs together, it is no longer important who wins the show.

"The show has resonated with everyone. In this sense, the Red Songs Gala is a revolution of contestant shows."

(China Daily November 7, 2007)

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