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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

In its choreography, The Red Detachment of Women has swept away the decadent, ethereal, fairylike poses of the old ballet. It suitably weaves elements of the Chinese classical dance and folk dances into the ballet style; and on a realistic basis, creates new ballet movements. Its music is militant with its emphasis on the portrayal of the characters. Expressing the bravery of the women soldiers, the melody of the theme song of the women's detachment runs through the whole ballet with variations reflecting different stages in the development of the story. The composers have used a great deal of Hainan folk song rich in local colour. Thus transformed, the ballet art which was once exclusively in the service of the foreign feudal and bourgeois lords has become an art imbued with the "fresh, lively Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love."

Expressing the deep proletarian class feeling, the Party representative shows the slave girl Wu Ching-hua the way to join the Red Army

The Red Detachment of Women was born in a fierce struggle. Ballet has a history of less than 20 years in China. When the ballet troupe was dominated by the counterrevolutionary revisionist line in art and literature, it did exact what troupes in capitalist and modern revisionist countries have done. It put on ballets like Swan Lake, The Corsair, Giselle and Notre-Dame de Paris (Esmeralda). The revolutionary members of the troupe finally refused to tolerate this any longer and rose to make a revolution in their art. Yet the top Party capitalist roader pontificated: "The reflection of contemporary life cannot be forced. It is not certain whether the ballet and foreign opera can reflect it." In 1964, he even raised the cry that ballet should not be reformed and must remain a completely Western form. Comrade Chiang Ching sharply rebutted these reactionary fallacies. She said: Ballet has been performed in foreign countries for several hundred years. But now Western ballet is decaying and dying. It falls to us to raise and carry the red banner of revolution in the ballet. She encouraged the members of the troupe to serve, not a handful of persons, but the people of the entire country as well as the revolutionary peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The success or failure of the first new ballet was of vital importance as the first step in the revolution of the ballet. And a key to success lay in choosing the right theme. In discussions on this subject, a counter-revolutionary revisionist then in authority in a vain attempt to lead the revolution in ballet astray, immediately recommended a story lauding bourgeois humanism. Holding firmly to the revolutionary line, however, Comrade Chiang Ching resolutely decided to start work on The Red Detachment of Women which embodies Chairman Mao's thinking on people's war.

Wu Ching-hua is one of the labouring people who suffered bitterly in the old society. It stands to reason that the ballet should depict her resistance and struggles and how she matures under the Party's leadership. But the capitalist roaders in the troupe wanted to base the presentation of this character on Zarema, the feudal court favourite in the ballet Fountain of Bakhchisarai! They wanted to impose on her movements of the "spirit," sentiments of "pity and weariness, sadness and grief." This was simply an attempt to frustrate the transformation of ballet.

In accordance with Chairman Mao's teachings, Comrade Chiang Ching arranged for members of the troupe to visit Hainan Island to live and work among the workers and peasants, drill with the PLA, and conduct systematic investigations. Profoundly educated by the struggle in real life, the artists began to appreciate the noble qualities of the workers, peasants and soldiers, and determined to sing their praises on the stage. This gave both choreographers and dancers a firm ideological basis in creating the heroic images of the ballet.

On October 8, 1964, our beloved and revered leader Chairman Mao attended a performance of The Red Detachment of Women. Of this newly born ballet he said: "The orientation is correct, the revolutionization successful and the artistic quality good." Chairman Mao's teachings light the way for the revolution in ballet. China's first revolutionary modern ballet The Red Detachment of Women broke through all obstacles to success. It is now one of the eight brilliant model theatrical works renowned throughout the land.

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