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Ballet in China> Beijing Review Archive> 1960s
UPDATED: February 23, 2010 NO. 12 MARCH 22, 1968
China's First Revolutionary Ballet

The Red Detachment of Women was the first revolutionary ballet to be created under the inspiration of Mao Tse-tung's brilliant thought and under the direct guidance of Comrade Chiang Ching. Born in the midst of the fierce struggle against the biggest capitalist roader in the Party and the pernicious revisionist line which he backed in art and literature, it was an epoch-making event in the history of ballet. Its successful presentation marked the birth of a proletarian ballet art which serves the workers, peasants and soldiers, and the rejuvenation in China of a classical art form which is decaying in the Western world.

Produced by Peking's Worker, Peasant and Soldier Ballet Troupe, The Red Detachment of Women tells of the growth of a unit of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army fighting on Hainan Island under the leadership of the Communist Party during the Second Revolutionary Civil War (1927-37).

Wu Ching-hua, a slave-girl of a tyrant landlord on the island, flees when she is about to be sold by the landlord, and later joins a fighting detachment of women under the leadership of the Communist Party.

Some months later, the Red Army plans to destroy the armed guards of the landlord during his birthday party. On the crucial night, Wu Ching-hua on the army's instructions steals into the manor house but, on seeing the landlord, thoughts of vengeance overpower her and she fires at him. This untimely act exposes and disrupts the Red Army's plan. When its main force storms the house, the alerted landlord and his henchmen escape through a tunnel.

Later, back in camp, educated by the Party, Ching-hua comes to understand that making revolution is not for the sake of personal vengeance, but to emancipate all the labouring people by crushing all the reactionaries. From spontaneous resistance she gradually develops into a conscious proletarian revolutionary fighter. Later, when Hung Chang-ching, the Party representative in the detachment, in a successful operation to cover the movements of the main Red Army forces, is wounded, captured and killed by the enemy, she becomes the Party representative. She vows to hold aloft the red banner handed on by the martyrs and carry the revolution through to the end.

The outstanding achievement of The Red Detachment of Women lies, first of all, in the bold breakthrough it has made in bourgeois, ballet conventions to make ballet, as Chairman Mao teaches, "fit well into the whole revolutionary machine as a component part, . . . operate as powerful weapons for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and destroying the enemy, and . . . help the people fight the enemy with one heart and one mind." Chairman Mao's thinking on armed struggle, and on people's war is woven well into the ballet and it fully reflects the truth that the oppressed people can obtain political power only by taking up arms. It warmly praises the revolutionary heroism and revolutionary rebel spirit of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army and the masses.

Another marked achievement of the ballet is its successful portrayal of proletarian revolutionary fighters like Wu Ching-hua and the Party representative Hung Chang-ching. Wu Ching-hua has the revolutionary rebel spirit. When, after fleeing from the landlord to the revolutionary base, she sees the red flag flying, she takes it into her arms. Her eyes brim over with warm, excited tears just as if she were embracing her own father or mother. In this scene, Wu Ching-hua's dances denouncing the crimes of the landlord and expressing her determination to be avenged are most effective. When she tells how she was beaten, her hearers echo her movements, reflecting the fact that her bitter experiences have aroused their deep sympathy, and that her grief and hatred are the class grief and hatred of all the labouring people. When she is enrolled in the women's detachment and is given a gun, her feelings soar. A lively portrayal of her character is given in this scene.

The noble qualities of a proletarian revolutionary fighter are epitomized in the Party representative Hung Chang-ching: a selfless and dauntless spirit, a clear-cut class standpoint, stern towards the enemy and warm towards comrades, with a fine style of work of complete solidarity with the masses. When he is captured and the frightened enemy tries to force him to write a letter ordering his men to retreat, he rebuffs and denounces the enemy's vile attempt. He rends the paper and throws its pieces into the enemy's face. To bring out Hung Chang-ching's lofty integrity, the choreographers give him powerful, vigorous leaps and turns to perform in sharp contrast with the crouching, embarrassed movements of the landlord's bullies with their trailing weapons. His dances in this scene effectively bring out the revolutionary heroism of the Red Army which is determined "to vanquish all enemies and never to yield."

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