international community. china?

Over the weekend CZC curated a cultural exchange between the Dalang Street Office and Peter Moser of more music. A talented and inspirational music facilitator, Pete asks questions that go to the heart of community work — why this, why here? And the ever vexed question for moi (especially in light of the Hong Kong protests) — where do we draw the line between doing our work and our work becoming complicit with Party goals of social control at the expense of democracy and economic justice?

In Dalang, CZC collaborated with Luki, a young cultural functionary who studied dance and music at Shenzhen University. At the Dalang Street Office, he is responsible for organizing cultural events. For Pete’s visit, Luki packed the two days with tours of Dalang public cultural spaces, including a library (4-500 users a day), the Yangtai Mountain, the Girl’s school, Qilin Museum, and Dalang Idol which is located in the busiest commercial area in Dalang and is itself comprised of converted factories. Pete also had one afternoon with two hakka singers and then a full day with the Dalang Migrant Worker Choir.

Dalang has a migrant population of roughly 300,000 workers and several thousand locals. (Dalang is the most populated Street Office in Longhua New District has a population of 500,000 and 8,000 locals.) Inspired by social economist Li Jinkui (at Beijing Institute for Economic Research in Shenzhen University Town), Dalang has been pushing “the 3rd 8 hours” program. Roughly speaking that program involves providing cultural opportunities — vocational training, libraries, parks, and singing — for migrant workers during their down time. According to Vice Party Secretary of Dalang, the Street Office realizes that most migrants won’t stay in Dalang, either going back home or moving to more developed areas of Shenzhen. They hope to plant cultural seeds, so that when workers leave they will take change with them wherever they go. Not unexpectedly, the Street Office’s investment in public culture has had the bonus effect of keeping workers in place — many have said that Dalang is one of the best area’s to be a worker.

In fact, there is a tight relationship between Dalang Idol and the choir. Luki started Dalang Idol to provide a Saturday evening open mike. It proved so popular and some of the workers were so talented that the became members of the choir, which is directed by Mrs. Huang. Choir members are paid for rehearsal time and performances, which makes the choir semi-professional. Today, Dalang Idol has weekly open mikes, monthly competitions for week champions, and then an annual final for the month champions. Dalang invites representatives from the Municipal Ministry of Culture, TV stations and newspapers in order to make the competition a jumping board for young talents. Luki is currently lobbying to start up a local recording studio.

Observing Pete facilitate new music reminded me how necessary creative education is. Although the Hakka singers emphasized, for example, that traditional their mountain songs were part of a spontaneous call and response tradition, nevertheless that afternoon, they had to be coaxed into trying something new, even something based on their repertoire. The young workers had more time with Pete and were less committed to a repertoire, but also had to be convinced that they could collaborate in creating new music, to take ownership of their own creativity.

And this confidence is the necessary first step to encouraging reform — political, economic, social, educational — any reform that enhances human lives. Pete says he encourages “positive resonances” through his music. When we trust creativity and beauty the world does improve. The problem of course is fascist impulses to control other lives and reap the harvest of others’ creativity. And for cultural workers, we are almost by definition complicit because in many ways we embody much of the best our cultures. After all, even when we teach critical theory, we do so through standardized linguistic forms that both legitimate and are legitimated by our credentials from famous universities and such.

Back in the day, when I was a college student studying Mandarin in Taipei, I happened across a banner that read, “Welcome Asian Brothers and Representatives from Japan”. The banner was red and the characters bulky white, an aesthetic that I have also encountered in the Mainland. I remember nothing about where the banner was (a hotel?) and what kind of event it announced (a trade conference?), but the phrasing has stayed with me almost thirty years. At the time, I laughed with friends about the determination to keep Japan separate from Asia, but today — as I think of how I work with many Party members and government officials in order to create cultural interventions — I wonder: would acknowledging that Japan is part of Asia have made the event organizers complicit with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, as Japan’s imperial project was spun in government propaganda? I mean, what’s really at stake when we engage “the enemy”, especially if we, like Pogo, have looked into the mirror and he is us?

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The song that Pete facilitated with the Dalang Migrant Worker Choir, below (translation follows):

Step by Step

副歌:
年轻的地方 一个大家庭 让梦想飞翔 跟着太阳的光芒
我们在一起 我们在成长 step by step by step

主歌:
乡路十八弯 一身白衣泪满面 月亮照进梦里面 奶奶煮汤圆 (合唱:奶奶煮汤圆)

那年的夏天 穿着白衬衣黑裤子 带上姥姥做的周豆腐 来到美丽异乡的大浪 (合唱:来到美丽异乡的大浪)

副歌:
年轻的地方 一个大家庭 让梦想飞翔 跟着太阳的光芒
我们在一起 我们在成长 step by step by step

主歌:
那年那天的早上 穿着皮鞋和西装 喜气洋洋离开村庄 来城里闯荡 国家繁荣富强 我们共同的愿望 (合唱:我们共同的愿望)

一件T恤穿身上 望着韶关的方向 读了大学校 追着梦想的方向 (合唱:追着梦想的方向)

副歌:
年轻的地方 一个大家庭 让梦想飞翔 跟着太阳的光芒
我们在一起 我们在成长 step by step by step

chorus:
A youthful place A great big family Let dreams fly Follow the sun’s rays
We’re together We’re growing up Step by step by step

verse:
There are eighteen twists in a country road
Wearing a white shirt, crying
The moon shines into your dreams
Where grandma makes sweet rice balls

That summer day
Wearing a white dress shirt, black slacks
I carried grandma’s smelly tofu
All the way to beautiful, but foreign Dalang

chorus:
A youthful place A great big family Let dreams fly Follow the sun’s rays
We’re together We’re growing up Step by step by step

verse:
The morning of that day
Wearing leather shoes and business suit
I happily left the village
To take on the city
The country is prosperous and strong
We share a common dream

Wearing a t-shirt
I headed to Shaoguan
I went to college
I’m still following my dreams

chorus:
A youthful place A great big family Let dreams fly Follow the sun’s rays
We’re together We’re growing up Step by step by step

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