it’s international labor day, 2015

and I’m listening to music by 张广天, whose music simultaneously evokes revolutionary times and postmodern desires. Zhang Guangtian is considered one of the first figures of Shanghai’s 1980s rock and independent music scene. In 1990, he moved to Beijing, where he has collaborated with both theater practitioners and film makers, most notably with the National Experimental Theatre’s Meng Jinghui. In 2000, Zhang Guangtian burst into national consciousness with Che Guevera (切·格瓦拉), which he wrote and directed. However, today it is the vexed lyrics of Mao Zedong that have me feeling bittersweet about the Chinese Revolution and the aftermath of Reform. The song was written for the 110th Anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth–how resplendent he was, Zhang Guangtian nostalgically sings–and although the lyrics allude to the need for revolution the images firmly tie Mao to the Party’s purposes. And the idolization. Simultaneously compelling and disturbing, I find it difficult to turn away from the Great Helmsman (below).

the way we were

Going through old speeches of Deng Xiaoping, I came across his 1974 address to a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, using Third World theory that Zhou Enlai had presented at Bandung 1955. Those were the days, when socialist utopianism inspired the oppressed Peoples of the Third World to roar their anger and retake what had been taken. Of course, two years after Deng’s New York gig, Zhou Enlai and then Mao Zedong would pass, the Gang of Four would be vanquished in a bloodless transition of power (if we don’t take the PLAs one-year foray into Vietnam as a concession to hardliners), and Deng Xiaoping would emerge as the new leader of the People’s Republic of China, employing cats of various colors to jumpstart the economy first in Shekou (1978) and then in Shenzhen (1979), with the SEZ established in 1980.

And yet. As events in the Middle East force us to reflect on the resentments that inequality and oppression foster, Maoist language resonates. And yes, Socialism with Chinese characteristics would qualify for condemnation as “that country which styles itself socialist” if only because the USSR, the other country that styled itself socialist disbanded as Gorbachev, Reagan, Thatcher, and Deng renegotiated the post Cold War order. Memory snippets from the Marxist Internet Archive.

[…] In this situation of “great disorder under heaven,” all the political forces in the world have undergone drastic division and realignment through prolonged trials of strength and struggle. A large number of Asian, African and Latin American countries have achieved independence one after another and they are playing an ever greater role in international affairs. As a result of the emergence of social-imperialism, the socialist camp which existed for a time after World War II is no longer in existence. Owing to the law of the uneven development of capitalism, the Western imperialist bloc, too, is disintegrating. Judging from the changes in international relations, the world today actually consists of three parts, or three worlds, that are both interconnected and in contradiction to one another. The United States and the Soviet Union make up the First World. The developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions make up the Third World. The developed countries between the two make up the Second World… Continue reading

revolutionary shenzhen

the revolution haunts shenzhen. revolutionary promises, kept and disregarded, successes and defeats erupt in conversation in part because we are still only sixty years from the revolution and in part because so many revolutionaries came to shenzhen a mere thirty years ago. the present only feels worlds away from mao. in fact, traces of socialist dreams still infuse everyday life.

just yesterday after yoga, for example, i chatted with a classmate named ‘ming’. i had thought he was shiny bright ming, but it turns out he was ‘free airing of voices and expression’ ming (大鸣大放). mao had encouraged free airing of views and expression at the beginning of the anti-rightist campaign (57-59) and my friend ming was born in 1958 and named accordingly. indeed, off the top of his head, he could name four friends, who shared his name. Continue reading