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CCAS Trips to China in the Early 1970s

Theatrical Performance

Revolutionary Model Opera Posters
A good example of massive street murals depicting the model revolutionary ballets and operas promoted by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing. South China, summer 1971.
Movie Theater
Movie theater in summer 1971 advertising the screening of the film version of the model revolutionary opera "Red Lantern."

While seeing propaganda posters everywhere, delegation members also found themselves immersed in a culture electrified by theatrical performances. These performances were an integral part of their China experience, and were as routinized as the formal receptions they received in each city. “It was the same at every commune and school we visited: every unit has a cultural troupe of some sort,” noted the delegation (CCAS 1972, 247). Performance was ubiquitous in both urban and rural settings and was well documented in many photos, including live scenes of theatrical performances as well as of posters and mural arts.

Revolutionary Performance
Village youngsters perform revolutionary routine for foreign visitors in south China, summer 1971.
Young People Performance
Young people performing with guerrilla warfare head ware, summer 1971.
Villagers enjoying performance in the open air, summer 1971.

Eight model revolutionary theatrical works were identified in May 1967 by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and her allies to guide all art and literary works during the Cultural Revolution (King, et al. 2010, 167). On a massive street mural, two operas and two ballets were recognizable: “The Red Lantern” (“Hongdeng ji”), “Shajiabang,” “The Red Detachment of Women” (“Hongse niangzi jun”) and “The White-Haired Girl” (“Baimao nü”). The original opera and ballet troupes performed these works in every major city. Smaller-scale troupes rehearsed and gave performances locally as part of a nationwide endeavor after 1967 to duplicate these original performances (King, et al. 2010, 179).

Friendship First, Competition Second
Wuxi Little Red Guards Ping Pong Song & Dance; children wearing red scarf and Chairman Mao badge.
Wuxi Little Red Guards Performance
Wuxi Little Red Guards Ping Pong Song & Dance; children wearing red scarf and Chairman Mao badge.

In addition to the adapted versions of the eight models, many other revolutionary performances were choreographed, practiced and performed feverishly across the nation. Photos showed that village youth performed several routines for the first delegation. Villagers also came to enjoy variety skits in the open air on hot summer nights. On March 13, 1972, the day the second delegation arrived in Wuxi, a “Little Red Guard” troupe welcomed the visitors with a song and dance performance. The well-trained young performers presented a range of acts including one in which children played table tennis under a sign marked “Friendship first, competition second” ). This symbolic rendition of the U.S. table tennis team’s visit to China in April 1971 left quite an impression on Joseph, who recorded the event in his memoir (Joseph 2013, 61).