The politics and aesthetics of rediscovering heroes of China’s ‘Red Classics’ in the new millennium
Lianhuanhua , a Chinese form of graphic novel, became popular in China in the 1920s and 30s and were promoted by left wing intellectuals as a means of spreading revolutionary ideology to the lower classes and children. Their golden age was between the 1950s and 1970s when many of the tales of proletarian communist heroes that formed the foundation myths of the new regime appeared in lianhuanhua form. With the advent of the Reform Era lianhuanhua lost their appeal as television took over popular entertainment and people turned away from the propaganda-style stories of class conflict.
In the new millennium, however, the economic and social uncertainty created by the market economy brought nostalgia for the past. The old stories, now “Red Classics”, reappeared, often as reprints, but also frequently in remakes and adaptations. This paper argues that while the reprints catered to nostalgic longings, the remakes and adaptations addressed themselves to current concerns. In a case study of 2 newlianhuanhua versions of Red Classics, “Red Sister’(Song of Yimeng) and ‘Who is the most lovable person?’ this paper considers how socio-economic change and changing political needs of the ruling party reshaped each of the lianhuanhua with respect to 1) the content of its textual component through the extension of the original story and 2) the graphic component through a changed aesthetics and politics of portraiture, marking a significant shift in the role of the working class as hero, subject and reader.
Rosemary Roberts: firstname.lastname@example.org is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on cross-disciplinary work combining elements of Chinese cultural studies, gender studies, literary studies and women’s studies. She has published extensively on Chinese women’s literature, gender in the Model Revolutionary Works (yangbanxi) of Cultural Revolution China and more generally on Chinese socialist and revolutionary literature and culture. She is the author of Maoist Model Theatre: The Semiotics of Gender and Sexuality in the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76)(Leiden: E J Brill, 2010) and has coedited five research anthologies. Her published translations include anthologies of short stories and Chinese folk songs, the memoirs of Confucius’ descendant Kong Demao, and contemporary Chinese plays for the Staging China Network based at Leeds University of which she is a founding member.