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Mao's Cultural Army
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Book description

Charting their training, travels, and performances, this innovative study explores the role of the artists that roamed the Chinese countryside in support of Mao's communist revolution. DeMare traces the development of Mao's 'cultural army' from its genesis in Red Army propaganda teams to its full development as a largely civilian force composed of amateur and professional drama troupes in the early years of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Drawing from memoirs, artistic handbooks, and rare archival sources, Mao's Cultural Army uncovers the arduous and complex process of creating revolutionary dramas that would appeal to China's all-important rural audiences. The Communists strived for a disciplined cultural army to promote party policies, but audiences often shunned modern and didactic shows, and instead clamoured for traditional works. DeMare illustrates how drama troupes, caught between the party and their audiences, did their best to resist the ever growing reach of the PRC state.

Reviews

'While most previous work about drama has focused on cities, DeMare draws on rich material, including local archives, to examine rural cultural production and organizations. DeMare's focus on the countryside, where most people lived and where the operas were most powerful, is a significant contribution.'

Jeremy Brown - Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

‘A fascinating study of how the Maoist remodelling of folk culture actually worked at the grassroots both before and after 1949.'

Paul Clark - University of Auckland

'Rich in ethnographic detail and the first-hand experiences of former members of Mao Zedong’s 'cultural army', this book provides a superb analysis of rural drama troupes as would-be agents of political change. An important account which adds much-needed historical depth to wider discussions of how the Communist Party has itself been transformed through encounters with China’s vast countryside.'

Matthew D. Johnson - Grinnel College, Iowa

'While historians have been wary of relying too heavily on the memory literature (Wenshi Ziliao) that has emerged since the 1980s, DeMare demonstrates the value of such works, when they have been carefully parsed. The result is a rich story that sheds light not just on the world of cultural production from the early Soviets to the early years of the People’s Republic, but also on the reality of day-to-day life outside the Soviets (a particular focus for DeMare) for early party members and the struggles of the CCP to reach out to rural people.'

Kate Merkel-Hess Source: Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

'I recommend this book strongly. Though it is highly specialized, it adds to our understanding not only of Chinese theater but also the revolutionary history of China’s rural areas. Although some of the content is already known, much of it is new and highly perceptive - a valuable contribution to the literature in its field.'

Colin Mackerras Source: The China Journal

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