Red culture can't compete with consumerism among young

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, May 25, 2011
Adjust font size:

The 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China has brought a renewed emphasis on the party's role in Chinese history. The importance of the party to the rise of modern China is being promoted through the so-called red culture of revolutionary songs, films, and stories.

However, the methods used have largely failed with Chinese youth as red culture has been superseded by modern consumerism.

Red culture dates back to a time before the market reforms. Using the antiquated methods of red culture ignores many changes that have accompanied China's economic miracle. Having opened itself up to market forces, China has given sellers and marketers free rein to mold and remake the desires of its people. Red culture needs to compete within this environment.

But can it survive in the market? The modes of red cultural expression were developed over 30 years ago.

If red culture wants to be a viable force, the government needs to set its sights on the age group that all marketers covet, those aged from 18 to 35.

This generation of Chinese citizens has no memory of life before the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. There is no nostalgia for the songs and stories of red culture. This is the generation of Baidu and Taobao, of iPhones and designer sneakers. They don't want the past; they want the future.

Asking them to take pride in the Party and the "historic achievements" that have made modern China possible is like asking children to take their medicine. It might be good for them, but it also tastes bad. Modern consumers are used to the sugar-coated advertisements of the market.

Evidence of this fact can be seen anywhere red culture is being promoted. After work one day, I came home and tuned into a CCTV channel, on which a live performance of patriotic songs was being shown. While I found the martial rhythms and the enthusiasm of the performers somewhat rousing, I was bemused by the repeated shots of the audience at this particular event.

I identified three types of audience members. First, there were the older men in suits who clapped along begrudgingly but otherwise looked bored. Second, there were older women in either military uniforms or in traditional ethnic garb of one kind or another. This second group showed the most enthusiasm for the performance but the feelings were not universal.

The third group consisted of young children in their primary school uniforms. During the performance, it became apparent that they had been coached on how to behave. Some took to their parts with gusto, while others, much like the older men, simply clapped along mechanically.

Absent from the audience was any sign of young consumers. This should not be surprising, since who would want to sit through such a performance when there are so many other forms of entertainment vying for one's attention. Red culture survived when it was the only option, but has lost its allure in a culture of choice. This trend will only accelerate as children are reared in an evermore pervasive and sophisticated marketing environment.

Recently, primary school students in Shanghai were issued little red books with stories from history. The cover featured two students dutifully saluting the hammer and sickle in front of a socialist-realist depiction of PLA soldiers.

I asked some students what they thought of the book. Overwhelmingly they told me it was boring. Many had already thrown it out. They explained that the stories were all about "old things," and they were interested only in new things like technology.

These are only two examples of the way in which red culture fails to connect with contemporary citizens. To be successful, the government needs to remember that citizens are also consumers – and not necessarily in that order. Consumers expect their needs, whether real or imagined, to be met.

Unless red culture starts playing by the rules of the market, its relevance will only continue to diminish. State backing may keep it going for a short time, but it needs to find new ways to engage with and capture young people, rather than simply being a retread of the songs and films of the Maoist period. Otherwise it's as doomed to cultural obsolescence as the Twist or flares are in the West.

For foreigners, and I suspect many Chinese as well, the recent deluge of red cultural products appears somewhat at odds with a modern China that has achieved so much. The songs, choreographed routines and patriotic storybooks would perhaps be more at home in the Soviet Union.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comments

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from