Crossroad of Culture, Battlefield of Information: The Cultural Exchange and Cultural Warfare in China (1921-1965)

Title: 1221 | Crossroad of Culture, Battlefield of Information: The Cultural Exchange and Cultural Warfare in China (1921-1965)
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Mian Chen, Northwestern University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Angie Chau, University of Victoria, Canada (presenter)
Min Qiao, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong (presenter)
Bixiao He, Sun Yat-sen University, China (presenter)
Ji Li, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (chair)
Zheng Lin, Sun Yat-sen University, China (discussant)


What happened when different cultures encountered? This panel seeks to understand the collision of culture and information from two perspectives. We firstly aim to show how exchanges of information created new cultural products and cultural imagination. Angie Chau discusses how Chinese artist Chang Yu’s works were influenced by his encounter with French culture. Mian Chen’s study focuses on how music from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia were smuggled into Guangdong Province in 1962-1964 and reshaped the urban soundscape during high socialism. We further examine how political powers participated in cultural exchanges and sought to create their cultural hegemony. Min Qiao’s paper focuses on the cultural competition between CCP and KMT in Republican Shanghai. Bixiao He turns to the culturally hybrid colonial Hong Kong, showing how the CCP managed its cross-border communication network in the colony to fuel the revolution in mainland China. Mian Chen discusses how the CCP sought to curb “capitalist music” in order to ensure the domination of revolutionary culture. The papers in this panel thus situate cultural exchanges not only as a productive process that creates new aesthetics and sensibilities, but also as a contested site that drove different political powers to step in and maneuver.

Panel Abstracts:
Red Met Yellow: The Cultural Politics of the Unofficial Music in Socialist China (1949-1965)
This study focuses on what communist official documents coined “yellow music,” music popular during the Republican period or smuggled from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia to mainland China between 1957 to 1964. I argue that yellow music became a contested cultural product, which the party tried to eradicate to ensure its control over society but ordinary people could find pleasure in listening to. In 1957 and 1963, the party all politicized this music, making them as the symptom of class enemies’ conspiracy and using them to address the need for class struggle. In the eye of the party, yellow music and the counterrevolutionary ideas they represented must be eradicated. But for the people, yellow music represented the traditional taste, the pleasure of dancing together, the alternative to revolutionary aesthetics, and a sense of the eccentric capitalistic world. In both 1957 and 1963, people were all able to find out ways to get access to yellow music. The contradiction further reveals that the party was not able to fully control the ideological realm at the grassroots level. The battle between party doctrine and ordinary people’s favorites was also entangled in a mixture of complicated affects. All these censors’ documents could be read as an archive of feelings of both the party and the ordinary people. The party tried to evoke moral anxiety, but they were also overwhelmed by anxieties about morality and class enemies. People’s feelings were more complicated, and yearning, distaste, and pleasure all came into play.

Chang Yu and the Transposition of Chineseness
Referred to as the “Chinese Matisse,” the painter Chang Yu (常玉 1901–1966) traveled to Paris in 1921, and in 1929, produced a series of copperplate engravings for the poet Liang Zongdai’s (梁宗岱 1903–1983) French translations of Tao Qian’s “recluse” poetry, a collaborative project featuring a preface by Paul Valéry (Éditions Lemarget, 1929).This paper examines how Chang Yu’s work complicates conventional binaries of traditional vs. modern and East vs. West, and although art historiography celebrates him for achieving “harmonious synthesis,” his visual art and writing demonstrate a self-conscious engagement with notions of nationality and ethnicity in making Chinese culture legible for a global (French) audience. The concept of transposition highlights both the artist’s physical movement of place, as well as the figurative imagining of a wider context of reception of Chinese culture outside of China during the Republican period. While Chang Yu draws on easily recognizable elements of literati sensibility in poetry and calligraphy to negotiate French expectations of Chinese aesthetics, the reception of his work reveals how for Chinese travelers in Paris in the first half of the 20th century, efforts to transpose Chineseness ended up emphasizing instead the incommensurability of time and place between two cultures.

Mediating Revolution: The Power of Magazines in Shanghai in the 1930s to 1940s
The 1930s to the 1940s witnessed a surprising development of the capital market and media industry in Shanghai, where publishing magazines became a battlefield for intellectuals to compete for support from the crowds in revolutions. Drawing on literary and historical materials in various magazines, such as Shenbao Monthly, Maodun Monthly, Dushushenghuo, and Renaissance Magazine, this article focuses on how intellectuals of different camps utilized images, voices and texts in mass media to (re)define, educate and mobilize the “crowds”; and how those literati and intellectuals relied on the capital market in Shanghai to promote mass education and install their political agenda on the one hand, but launched a series of attacks on capitalism on the other. I argue that whilst the rightwing literati of KMT camp felt the need to anchor Confucianism and nationalism in a modern period to reform and regulate the masses; the leftwing intellectuals turned their attention to the daily lives of the literate workers and citizens, aiming at teaching them class consciousness. In this way, “revolution” turned out to be “mediated,” and the enlightenment project conducted in support of printing culture and public field helped to provide modern China a mass-based party. By attacking the degradation of the capitalistic values or lifestyles, and liberalism, intellectuals of different camps all conjured up May Fourth imagination of “ethics” and “nation,” however, diverged at their attitude towards the Chinese tradition, and especially, towards the relationship between elites and crowds.

Transporting Revolution: The Making of Communist Communication Network in early Cold War Hong Kong
This study examines the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s communication institutions in Hong Kong in the early Cold War. I argue that these institutions facilitated the cross-border flows of the CCP’s ideas, personnel, and logistics across the CCP-controlled rural areas, the KMT-ruled urban areas, and even Southeast Asia. I pay extra attention to the New Democracy Publishing Company which imported books and pamphlets from bookstores of the liberated areas to Hong Kong, and shipped books printed in Hong Kong by the CCP to both liberated areas, KMT-controlled areas, and Southeast Asia.This study firstly furthers our understanding of colonial Hong Kong as a nexus of transnational connections. While existing studies focus on Hong Kong’s role in transnational immigration and cultural industry, this study shows the colony also empowered China’s communist revolutions with cross-border supports. This study also uncovers the role of previously-unnoticed supports from a global information and personnel network and helps us rethink the nature of the Chinese communist revolution, questioning the popular historiography attributing the CCP’s success mainly to peasant mobilization

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 03 - Room 6

Go to Room 6