Artworks produced with official sanction during periods marked by turmoil and human suffering are challenging subjects for scholars who would like to discuss them in a fair and responsible manner. If they aestheticize the works’ form and political affiliation, how would they be doing justice to these works whose creation and content are so meshed with the politics of their time? On the other hand, can an approach that takes ideology into account be developed that does not appear to ignore, condone or support the odious acts of violence associated with those periods? This article explores the latter question with Red Detachment of Women (1964), one of eight “model” works of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). My aim is twofold and primarily concerned with rehabilitation—I challenge established narratives that portray the Cultural Revolution as a time of artistic famine and nihilism so as to urge a reconsideration of the work as art rather than artifact or kitsch; at the same time, I explore the hybrid identity of the work so as to facilitate, and advocate for, a reappraisal of its artistic worth using criteria that recognize and take into consideration its ideological underpinnings.
Article originally published in VoiceXchange 3/1 (2009): 5–37.
Eng, Clare Sher Ling. 2009. “Red Detachment of Women and the Enterprise of Making ‘Model’ Music during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.” VoiceXchange 3/1 (2009): 5–37.