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12 January 2001

Rethinking Cultural Revolution Culture
International Science Forum Heidelberg, 22.-24.2.2001

A workshop in conjunction with the exhibition Picturing Power: Art and Propaganda in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 1.-28.2.2001 University Museum Heidelberg

It is a common assumption that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was a period of unprecedented cultural stagnation. 8 so-called model works (yangbanxi) are taken as paradigmatic for the whole gamut of Cultural Revolution culture. They are habitually damned as an aberration in terms both of aesthetic and cultural development. Yet the idea that the Cultural Revolution was simply a distorted and atypical phase of political extremism, distinct from the years before and after this "unfortunate period," is misleading, notably in the context of artistic production. The notion that there was nothing but the 8 model works in Cultural Revolution culture, is mistaken. Artistic production was not restricted to the yangbanxi (incidentally, their number had grown to 18 by the end of the period). Moreover, the yangbanxi are anything but the product of the iconoclastic and xenophobic era the Cultural Revolution is so often described as. In fact, they are manifestations of a hybrid taste calling for the transformation of Chinese tradition to conform with foreign standards, a taste which over the last hundred years has led to the creation of a Chinese culture with a distinctly foreign imprint. Thus the model works cannot simply be considered a hideous perversion born of Mao's experiment in re-inventing a new culture that was both inherently Chinese and revolutionary. Instead, the yangbanxi have their rightful place in a long series of attempts to synthesise foreign and Chinese traditions, a series that has continued to the present day.

The aims of the Heidelberg workshop are threefold:

  1. The workshop hopes to uncover the origins of Cultural Revolution culture and to trace its repercussions in contemporary art and culture. It will discuss and evaluate the deeply-rooted historical, artistic and social wellsprings of Cultural Revolution culture and its cultural significance.
  2. The workshop sets out to enrich our knowledge of cultural life during the Cultural Revolution which is still impeded by the difficulty involved in getting at the relevant sources. It will juxtapose objects of cultural production from the Cultural Revolution and testimonies from participants in the Cultural Revolution.
  3. The workshop is concerned to present an alternative reading of Cultural Revolution culture. In discussions of the model works as well as other cultural products (such as poetry, short stories, novels, songs, music, paintings, theatre, film) both from the Cultural Revolution and the years before and after those 10 years of "stagnation" it will become apparent that Cultural Revolution culture demands to be considered less as a deviation than as the norm of (orthodox political) culture in the People's Republic of China.

The workshop is funded by the German Research Council (Heinz Maier-Leibnitz-Preis) and the Volkswagen Foundation. It has been organised in cooperation with the International Science Forum. It takes place in conjunction with the exhibition "Picturing Power—Art and Propaganda in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution", which features posters from the University of Westminster Collection in London, as well as video and audio footage formerly exhibited and prepared at Indiana University and Ohio State University, USA.

Provisional Program of Events:

Wednesday 21.2.2001
Arrival in Heidelberg

Thursday, 22.2.2001
Session I: Art and the Cultural Revolution
Visit to the Exhibition
Session II: Literature and the Cultural Revolution
Keynote Address I

Friday 23.2. 2001
Session III: Operatic Drama and the Cultural Revolution
Round-Table Discussion: "The Importance of Culture during the Cultural Revolution"
Session IV: Film and the Cultural Revolution
Video Showing: Tan Dun Orchestral Theatre III: Red Forecast

Saturday 24.2.2001
Session V: Images of Women and the Cultural Revolution
Open Round-Table Discussion: "Remembering the Posters"
(with student participants from the intensive course "Pictures at an Exhibition" and visitors to the Heidelberg exhibition). Session VI: Revolutionary Songs and the Cultural Revolution
Keynote Address II

Sunday, 25.2.2001

Barbara Mittler
Department of Chinese Studies
University of Heidelberg
Akademiestr. 4-8
D-69117 Heidelberg
Phone: 49 6221 547657
Fax: 49 6221 547639

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 22.01.2001


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