Red Songs, Red Banners, Red Olympics…But where is the heart?

As many of you probably noticed, in the run up to the Party’s 90th anniversary China went a little Red Culture crazy (like in these photos).

A lot has been made of the Red Song “phenomenon” (Red Songs were written for propaganda purposes in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and include such hits as “Without the Chinese Communist Party, there is no new China), that has been widely publicized in the Chinese media. It culminated yesterday in a massive gathering in Chongqing with 100,000 people praising the party in perfect harmony (or maybe just with volume). The gov’t likes to claim that these songs are popular because people just love the Party so darn much.

As Yajun from, pointed out in an excellent post earlier this week, for many people Red Songs are just a reminder of their childhood. This has been reinforced by conversations with my Chinese friends, that these are simply songs that everybody knows.

I’ve also noticed that in general, Chinese people like to sing in public. Practically every time there is a mildly important event, people perform songs.

This time though, they have no choice over what to sing. At the hospital the Party office received a message that there would be a red song competition July 1st. The order was clear, we could have no less than 80 employees competing, and that it should be closer to 120 if possible. The same thing is happening in work units around the country, everyone has to sing.

“The words are so stupid, and nobody likes doing this propaganda,” one friend told me after spending 2 hours outside of work preparing for a performance. This seems to echo most of the younger people’s feelings about the Red Songs. For people less than 30 years old, they have no memory of life under Mao, it seems lifetimes removed from their current situation.

When I asked another Chinese friend if he was doing anything special today, he said “just listening to boring speeches all day, like we have been all week.” These massive propaganda efforts seem to have little effect on people who are used to faking it.

If the pictures didn’t remind me slightly of North Korea, it would almost be comical. Nobody wants to be singing these song, but the Party likes to put for the image that they are actually popular.

For the Party though I think it would almost be more concerning if people were actually nostalgic for life under Mao. What would that say about life in China today, if periods of starvation and political purges were really better than inflation, food scares, and high property prices?

So this morning when I left for work I decided I would try to find signs of this red culture phenomenon in my daily life, or did it just exist in the media. There were banners and signs everywhere, but of the 200 people or so I passed on my way to work, only 4 were wearing red, and just one seemed to have done it on purpose (keep in mind that about 8% of the country are Party members).

So rest easy America (and start worrying Party), China isn’t going through a second cultural revolution.

8 responses to “Red Songs, Red Banners, Red Olympics…But where is the heart?”

  1. Tim Corbin says:

    Thank goodness.

  2. […] too Cultural Revolution for you, you can read this about why it’s not as scary as it appears: Red Songs, Red Banners, Red Olympics…But where is the heart? Share:EmailFacebookStumbleUponDigg ~ Comment (0) […]

  3. Joel says:

    Reminds me of the earthquake “donations”, where employees and neighbours were basically shamed into giving.

  4. […] 北京见红– 红歌、红旗、红色奥运……可是,红心在哪里?——美国可以放心,中国不会再来一次文革 […]

  5. […] The Wall Street Journal’s China Blog has a great primer on Red Songs, including handy lyrics and videos. These are more than mere nostalgic entertainment. Depending on who you ask, these songs are the most obvious sign of an ideological struggle within party ranks, a bid to fill an ideological vacuum in modern Chinese society, or merely a prelude to the recent Communist Party 90th Birthday celebrations. While this piece over at Seeing Red In China reflects upon the fact that for most ordinary Chinese p…. […]

  6. […] Like I have said these problems are widespread, and apparently it is not only the local governments interested in making sure that these structures opened in time for the big celebration. […]

  7. […] year’s Asian Games or Asian Para Games. No mention of if newlyweds will be forced to sing red songs at their big Guangzhou wedding. Registration is open until August 12 at […]

  8. […] of a reminder of how quickly the pendulum can swing in Chinese politics. Not even 12 months ago, millions of Chinese students and workers were singing red songs (a hallmark of Bo’s Chongqing), and today my co-workers seemed to be enjoying the political […]

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