Through an analysis of Third Sister Liu, a popular musical of the early 1960s, this article illustrates how the Chinese Communist Party mobilized state and society to express disparaging ideas about the intellectual during the Great Leap Forward. The Chinese intellectual was not any specific social type, group, or individual, but a substrate upon which the party organized and promoted its vision and division of society. Official representations, organization, and the threat of punishment underpinned the party's efforts and produced local resistance toward the party's understanding of the intellectual. The author's analytical approach stresses the social work of construction that reproduced the intellectual as a major political subject, an official classification, and an embodied identity in socialist China. The analysis illuminates heretofore obscured dimensions of Communist Party rule and experiences of those affected by the classification.
In the scene of the “singing competition,” the literati each wore the face-paint (lianpu, 脸谱) of an animal: one was a pig, another a dog, and the last one a fox. These men of letters had retractable necks [like turtles]; they bent and twisted their bodies and sang and spoke in a pretentious manner, behaving disgustingly on stage.—Observation on a local performance of Third Sister Liu, Liu Jialing, 2002
Third Sister Liu opposes class oppression; it speaks for our proletarian revolution.—Chairman Mao
Recent research on Chinese intellectuals (zhishifenzi 知识分子) has proposed to study this subject as a social construction with changing boundaries and expressions, as opposed to assuming any functional, static definition of the category as “critical thinkers,” “cultural producers,” or other social types, as has been done (U 2003, 2007, 2009). The aim of this new theorization is to unravel the power dimensions and social dynamics that have defined and redefined the composition of a class of Chinese intellectuals and their social positions and significance to the broader society. The new approach highlights the “reification of the intellectual” after the 1949 Communist Revolution—that is, the transformation of the intellectual from a concept of classification used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to an everyday embodied political subject. The approach emphasizes the ways in which ordinary individuals dealt with their assigned or potential intellectual identities, as well as the impacts of the reification of the intellectual on state policies and social organization (U 2007, 988–89).
As a social construction, the Chinese intellectual began to affect social life nationwide after the CCP takeover. Official representations, categorizations, and organization during the Thought Reform campaign and the registration of unemployed intellectuals in the early 1950s turned the once obscure and contested concept of zhishifenzi into a widely recognized social type. A diversity of groups and individuals—teachers, engineers, senior high school students, educated housewives, and virtually everyone else who had completed junior high school—were included in the official classification (U 2003, 109; 2007, 979–82). In practice, a host of personal attributes (occupation, educational achievement, political capital, gender, and age) interacted with structural factors (sector characteristics, workplace composition, and power relations) as well as individual strategies of coping and advancement to determine how, when, and even whether one was identified as an intellectual at the local level. Intellectuals became a highly visible population and an everyday concern of the political authorities. This reification of the intellectual altered how individuals perceived and presented themselves, as well as how they regarded and interacted with others.
This article deepens the investigation of the mechanisms through which the CCP promoted its understandings of the intellectual within state and society, a principal cause of the reification of the subject. I focus on the Great Leap Forward, the tragic official production campaign that engulfed China, especially the countryside, during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The campaign led to the abandonment of rational economic planning, a feature of CCP rule to that point (Bernstein 2006; Chan 2001; Teiwes and Sun 1999). I use the production and distribution of Third Sister Liu (刘三姐), a popular musical, as a lens through which to view how the party mobilized local populations to express, disseminate, and consume disparaging ideas about the intellectual as a means of rousing “the enthusiasm and creativity of the masses” in production activities (Schram 1989, 126). That is to say, I examine the social organization that transformed the anti-intellectual official ideology of the Leap into local, official representations of the intellectual. Third Sister Liu is ideal for such a purpose because the production epitomized the party's anti-intellectualism and use of mass mobilization during the campaign. The musical, which became popular entertainment nationwide, was part and parcel of a grandiose experiment that led to widespread human suffering and economic loss.
To put this in theoretical terms, the Chinese intellectual has been a primary substrate upon which the CCP organizes and promotes its “vision and division” of society (Bourdieu 1998, 8). This article illustrates the use of this substrate by the Mao regime to pursue the Leap, which reinforced the reification of the intellectual. Specifically, I describe the ways in which the party deployed its “symbolic power”—the “power of constructing reality”—to promote to the nation a specific perspective on the intellectual (Bourdieu 1991, 166). Such power was realized through the party's continuing capacity to interpret long-standing social inequalities, organize local populations, and, not least, monopolize the means of legitimate violence. Representation, organization, and threat of punishment were the critical “social work of construction” that underpinned the Leap perspective on the intellectual (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 229). My analysis indicates further that studying the Chinese intellectual as a social construction can open new vistas to understanding the dynamics of political domination and state–society relations under CCP rule.
In the following analysis, I start with a prefatory note on Third Sister Liu and the CCP classification of the Chinese intellectual. The next section describes the official ideology, political conditions, and state–society interactions that led to the musical's production. I then contrast the portrayal of the intellectual in the widely circulated film version of the musical with previous cinematic representations of the social category sponsored by the party. These sections together explain the alignment between official ideology and the creative process of the musical. I then illustrate further official mobilization of local populations to produce, distribute, and consume ideas, images, and language about the intellectual by analyzing the programming of Third Sister Liu on television and radio, as well as in theater and cinema, and other related events in Shanghai. The section is followed by a discussion of the muted resistance of writers and journalists (who were intellectuals by official definition) to the musical's anti-intellectualism. What emerges is a multifaceted picture of the social construction of the Chinese intellectual based on political organization, theatrical representation, and contestation that traversed state and society, an account of how the party transformed political power into symbolic power, as well as its impacts on society.
The conclusion places Third Sister Liu in the larger post-Leap political context. I juxtapose the musical with the ill-fated 1963 movie Early Spring in February (早春二月), which presents the Chinese intellectual in a very different light. I suggest that we must investigate high-level competition to redefine this subject as well as state use of symbolic power to explain further the mass violence perpetrated against those charged as intellectuals locally during the Cultural Revolution (1966–69). I describe the reinterpretation of Third Sister Liu in its southwestern place of creation during the movement, and suggest that the new understanding reinforced the inhumane portrayal of the intellectual and therefore the brutality against those identified as intellectuals.
A Note on Third Sister Liu and the CCP Classification of Intellectuals
In the early 1960s, Third Sister Liu, a song and dance drama set between the Tang and Ming dynasties (618–1644), took China's cultural scene by storm. Originating in Guangxi Province, far removed from the capital at Beijing, the musical drew on the folklore of Third Sister Liu, whose legend has permeated south China since the Tang dynasty. It tells the story of a peasant heroine of minority origin using her ingenuity in singing and improvising mountain folksongs (shange 山歌) to help poor villagers fight against predatory landlords and their hangers-on. The musical was staged in Beijing between July and September 1960, including four times inside the official compound of Zhongnanhai, when it was praised by Chairman Mao and other CCP leaders. In the following months, the troupe toured no fewer than thirteen provinces and regions and some twenty cities, many of which staged their own productions of the play (Liu Sanjie zhuanji 1979, 2). By January 1961, radio and television stations nationwide were playing excerpts of the performance to ring in the Western and Chinese New Years; gramophone recordings were available for sale and distribution. Later that year, Changchun Film Studio, one of the biggest in China, released Third Sister Liu as a musical set along the banks of the Li River in spectacular Guilin in Guangxi. The movie was an instant hit, prompting the production of colored pictures of the actresses and actors, sheet music, and artworks related to the movie, just in time for another New Year celebration. In the fall of 1962, New China Bookstore began a nationwide sale of a ninety-page illustrated storybook on Third Sister Liu, an ideal keepsake for the family (Tang and Pan 1962).
The popularity of Third Sister Liu was attributable not only to its impressive score, memorable characters, and superior cinematography; the production's most famous and entertaining scene—the singing competition (duige 对歌)—also was an important part of its success.1 In the movie, the scene lasts for twenty minutes and shows Liu, an adorable young woman, in a contest of improvised singing on the river bank. The narrative tension of the contest is intensified by Liu's pledge to cease singing should she be beaten in her art. Her rival, the wicked local landlord, has hired three apparently well-known Confucian literati (xiucai 秀才) from nearby areas to compete with Liu, and they arrive at the showdown with a boatful of songbooks and the intent of crushing this lowly woman. With her quick wit, angelic voice, and the overwhelming support of nearby villagers, Liu humiliates the three middle-aged men and exposes their utter ignorance of the simplest of agricultural labors.
After a decade of CCP rule, no mature audience could have failed to notice that the singing competition represented another official rebuke of the Chinese intellectual. Before the 1949 revolution, the party had depicted the intellectual as an unreliable yet indispensable agent of the socialist revolution impregnated with “petty-bourgeois” and “bourgeois” worldviews, lifestyles, and habits (Yang Fengcheng 2005, 49–74). The party's classification of “intellectuals” reflected the vast inequality in cultural capital between literati and the peasantry in dynastic times and the dearth of schooling opportunities in the still largely agrarian society. The classification was also based on the Marxist-Leninist notion that intellectuals (writers, engineers, doctors, teachers, and other white-collar workers) are “not an independent economic class,” but “occupy a special position among the other classes” (quoted in Lenin 1983, 11). After taking power, the party continued to interpret past and present social inequalities using Marxist-Leninist concepts, turning the intellectual into an official demographic classification. The intellectual was regarded as essential for socialist development but politically unreliable. Because of official organization and ideology, the intellectual became an undisputed class of subjects within state and society and an embodied identity, personally and interpersonally, before the mid-1950s (U 2003, 2007).
The Chinese Communist Party's attack on the intellectual intensified with the Anti-Rightist movement that began in mid-1957, after writers, teachers, and others criticized the party during the Hundred Flowers campaign (1956–57) (MacFarquhar 1974; Zhu Zheng 1998). Major rethinking on the intellectual took place at the highest political level. Chairman Mao felt that Soviet-style industrialization had produced “a privileged bureaucracy” and “spawned professional and technological elites who were separated from the masses of workers and peasants” (Meisner 2007, 141). The deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations prompted him to question the Leninist orthodoxy that intellectuals are indispensable to the socialist project. When mass mobilization began as part of the Great Leap Forward in late 1957, the party's assessment of the intellectual was at its nadir. Large numbers of students, teachers, writers, and officials were forced to labor in the countryside “to be taught ‘proletarian’ virtues by living and working among peasants.” The latter were now seen by Mao as “the agent[s] of radical social change” (Meisner 2007, 146, 149). Third Sister Liu was created in such a political context. The musical reflected and reproduced the official attack on and dismissal of the intellectual.
Staging Third Sister Liu
Organizing local populations was a key means through which the CCP promoted its vision and division of society in general and its views of the intellectual in particular. The creation of Third Sister Liu exemplified this aspect of the party's exercise of symbolic power. The anti-intellectual production involved close party supervision and local mobilization. Third Sister Liu reflected the Leap's canons of art production, meshing neatly the operations of central and local instruments of political domination in service of the production campaign.
Third Sister Liu was proposed in 1958 in the city of Liuzhou in Guangxi Province, as the local authorities prepared for the tenth anniversary celebration of the People's Republic, and as the Leap transformed the production of art objects (Liu Sanjie zhuanji 1979, 1). In retrospect, the musical was an ingenious idea, as it resonated with the major tenets of art production propounded by the CCP. First, the party had initiated a mass campaign to collect folk songs, folktales, and folk poetry to extol peasants' and workers' hard work and ingenuity in an attempt to legitimize the Leap's anti-intellectual approach to production (Chen 1960, 1; Yen 1967, 25). Liu's legend as a “singing immortal” of folk songs was a rich resource for such propaganda. Second, because the variety of stories and songs related to Liu were from imperial times, their revival dovetailed, too, with the party's decision to rehabilitate theatrical and literary heritage to help popularize official ideas (Clark 1987, 64–65; Fokkema 1965, 196–98; McDougall 1984, 290–91). Third, the CCP sought to showcase the national minorities in the performing arts—and Liu's legend was strongly rooted in the Zhuang population in Guangxi (Blake 1979; Yen 1967, 25–27). Most important for our analysis, Liu's legend features literati as central figures, and these characters could be rewritten to support the Leap's anti-intellectualism. After the Hundred Flowers debacle, Mao “savagely turned against” the intellectual (Schram 1989, 126; Yang Fengcheng 2005, 143–59). By the fall of 1958, the Leap had engulfed the countryside. Third Sister Liu, which vilifies literati and portrays peasants' ingenuity, was the near-perfect vehicle for a thinly disguised affirmation of the Leap and Mao's disapproval of the intellectual.
After the musical was proposed, cadres and cultural workers traveled across the province to meet peasants and folksingers to collect stories about Third Sister Liu and her songs. They reportedly brought back some 20,000 folk songs and large numbers of folktales (Liu Sanjie zhuanji 1979, 1, 10, 14). According to S. H. Chen, the gathering of folk poetry and songs during the Leap went beyond existing materials or those rooted in local communities. The “collectors” often lauded the CCP's heroism and achievements before rousing villagers into “a festive mood” of participation. New poetry and songs were therefore invented and old ones altered as individuals responded to political suggestions (Chen 1960, 5–7). Still, the stories of Liu thus collected from peasants and other sources were full of inconsistencies and contradictions that necessitated culling before a rationalized tale of her struggle against rapacious landlords and their accomplices could emerge.
The stories place Liu in different dynasties, but mainly in Tang times. Some state that she was from a well-to-do family and educated in the classics; others indicate that she was a poor village laborer. There are even debates about her ethnicity. Many accounts are essentially love stories or fairy tales (Liu Sanjie ziliao huibian 1960). Reflecting CCP intervention, the tales collected after 1949 and during the Leap emphasize her persecution by and resistance against landlords (He Qifang 1960, 30–31; Loh 1984, 167–69). A principal aspect of these stories is that Liu was involved in singing competitions with respectable literati. In one well-known version, the contender was her admirer, a young and handsome scholar, and they sang for seven days and nights without producing a winner before both turned into stone. In another version, literati came from different places to challenge Liu, but were all beaten by her majestic singing.
Under the direction of Liuzhou's party authorities, a “socialist” rendition of the legend was fashioned from the amassed stories and songs—Liu appears as a feisty, sharp-witted peasant woman who fights with her musical talent against depraved landlords and slavish scholars. An eight-scene script was prepared, revised, and rehearsed to portray, according to the authorities, her genuine character without the contamination perpetuated by previous ruling classes.2 As Lydia H. Liu has noted, such a claim of “a single, corrected version” of the story precisely “contradicts the modality of folklore,” for they are sustained by “reinvention and retelling” (2003, 579). The singing competition, which would become the musical's most famous scene, was excerpted in the nationwide journal Script in September 1959 (Li Huizhong 1961, 45).
Seven months later, Guangxi sponsored a festival of Third Sister Liu performances in the provincial capital of Nanning, the location where Mao had first pressured his colleagues to accept the Leap as a development project (MacFarquhar 1983, 24–26). The festival was a success. More than 1,400 people from all over the province performed the newly scripted musical in eleven genres of traditional Chinese theater. The performance staged before the festival was an even bigger success. It involved more than 1,200 “cultural work units,” almost 60,000 performers, and an audience of 12 million people, or 60 percent of the provincial population (Wu Jinnan 1962, 5). After the festival, the provincial government provided “instructions and guidance” on revising the script, a complete version of which was printed in Script in mid-1960 and later by the Chinese Theater Press. The Guangxi Folk Song and Dance Theater was established to take the musical to Beijing and around the country (Liu Sanjie zhuanji 1979, 2).
In his otherwise congratulatory review of the production, He Qifang, a party bulwark but a critic of the Leap's approach to the arts, was quite candid about Liuzhou's modifications of the corpus of Liu's stories.3 Even though the musical incorporated some of the collected folktales and folk songs, he wrote, turning out a story with “a precise theme [about Liu's struggle against landlords and literati] and rich dramatic effect required many decisions and deletions, and much imagination and fabrication.” The musical, he stated, was not an adaptation from folklore. It did not reflect Liu's background or experience, despite claims by zealous critics to the contrary. Rather, “it is an original piece of creation based on folklore” (He Qifang 1960, 31). The lyrics of folk songs attributable to Liu were liberally rewritten for the production, while some new songs were created from scratch (Zheng Tianjian n.d., 19–22). More broadly, “the use of orchestral accompaniment, vocal music, settings, props, and stage design vastly oversteps the artistic milieu and technical demands of folk performance” (Liu 2003, 576).
Although tales abound of Liu singing against literati, none of the well-known stories actually depicts the latter colluding with landlords to stop her from stirring up local peasants. The story closest to the stage version has a powerful magistrate hire four scholars to take on Liu, who is obliged to marry the magistrate if she loses the competition (Jia Zhi 1960, 102; Li Huizhong 1961, 52). Stories of Liu show that she banters with her opponents and asserts her independence as a woman. She is polite and addresses the scholars as “gentlemen” (xiansheng 先生) and “elder brothers” (a'ge 阿哥), because they are not depicted as her class enemies. Most songs that satirized or attacked the literati in the musical were therefore “selected and modified from other folksongs” (Zheng Tianjian n.d., 16, 20). They were not part of the folklore, but deliberately written to exalt peasants by mocking the educated.
To put this differently, CCP authorities in Liuzhou and, more broadly, in Guangxi transformed the protagonists in the legend of Third Sister Liu into what the party called “model characters” (dianxing renwu 典型人物) in class struggle—a peasant heroine, an evil landlord, and cowardly and useless intellectuals. A major regional folktale underwent extensive remodeling for the tenth anniversary of the People's Republic. The most ingenious aspect of this local ideological editing is the recasting of the literati in the folktale as slavish and worthless for production, thereby lending support to the anti-intellectual premises of the Leap. The figures of courageous peasants, not to mention depraved landlords, had already become staples in the postrevolutionary public discourse dominated by the party. True, the CCP had long been denigrating China's educated population. Even before founding the party, Chen Duxiu had called scholars (shi 士) “thugs at the mid level of society” (1993, 145). During the May Fourth movement, the newly formed party had lashed out at “the intellectual class” (zhishi jieji 知识阶级) for seeking individual fame, wealth, and power (U 2009).4 At the 1942 Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art, Mao famously suggested that with their hands and feet “smeared with cow dung,” workers and peasants were still “cleaner than the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intellectuals” (Mao 1971, 255). However, a genuinely nationwide representation of the Chinese intellectual as accomplices in class oppression—encapsulated by the label “bourgeois (zichan jeiji) intellectuals”—only gathered strength in the Anti-Rightist movement (Yang Fengcheng 2005, 144). As the party further attacked the educated population to foster peasant and worker enthusiasm in the Leap, the Liuzhou and Guangxi authorities, through mobilizing and supervising the local population, skillfully translated past and present CCP denunciations of the intellectual into popular theater in service of the state. The next section analyzes further Third Sister Liu's representation of the intellectual by comparing the 1961 movie with previous films produced under CCP rule.
The Ugly Chinese Intellectual
Representation was another central aspect of the CCP exercise of symbolic power, or promotion of the party's vision and division of society. Cinema was an important medium through which the party deployed ideas, images, and language to shape popular understanding of the intellectual. Compared to movies produced in the 1950s, Third Sister Liu is completely negative in its representations of the intellectual (Liu Sanjie 1961). It does not incorporate the ideological premise that they are reformable or possess usable skills, as had been the norm in postrevolutionary cinema. The film symbolized the Leap's dismissal of the intellectual in developing China.
During the 1950s, intellectuals were major characters in feature films because of the technical importance as well as political suspicion that the party attached to the social category. Although the on-screen personae of intellectuals fluctuated, the social and political diversity of the category was consistently highlighted. For example, The March of Democratic Youth (Minzhu qingnian jinxingqu 民主青年进行曲) (1950) features intellectuals as central characters. It spotlights student protest at Peking University before 1949 and, in particular, the transformation of a handsome, stylish man from a diligent but politically indifferent student into a staunch supporter of the movement. The film presents many faces of the intellectual. There are patient and understanding underground Communists and a mixture of leveled-headed, impulsive, muscular, frail, hardworking, and hedonistic students. Some students are economically privileged; others struggle to get by, while a few are thuggish Nationalist agents in disguise. The March is unique in the deference it pays to those whom the party regarded as progressive intellectuals. The moral authority in the film is not so much the handful of indefatigable Communists, but an elderly professor, a participant in the May Fourth movement. In an early scene, this hoary, bespectacled scholar energizes student protest with an inspirational speech that attacks the Nationalist Party and the United States.
Cinematic admiration of intellectuals, however, was short-lived under CCP rule. As official policies on intellectuals tightened, most notably through attacks on the writers Hu Shi, Yu Pingbo, and Hu Feng in the mid-1950s, criticisms of the social category in movies were commonplace (Gao Huamin 2001, 289–318). But the notion that intellectuals are reformable politically and have usable skills remained a staple in cinema. The Diary of a Nurse (Hushi riji 护士日记) (1957) is typical in these respects. Jian Suhua, a nursing school graduate, is an intellectual by official definition. While most of her classmates long for choice assignments, she volunteers to work at a remote and barren construction site. Her lover, a young and successful surgeon, is professionally ambitious. He does not understand her selflessness, let alone the site workers' dedication to their work. Jian's supervising doctor is disagreeable, too: a womanizer who provides perfunctory care to the workers. In the end, her lover leaves her for his career, but her boss turns over a new leaf. Although this tripartite statement on the intellectual—the good, the bad, and the reformable—resembles the representation in The March, no intellectual featured in The Diary has moral authority in his or her own right. Jian is commendable only because she does not act like her educated colleagues but possesses worker-like altruism.5
Before analyzing Third Sister Liu's representation of the intellectual, we must look at two comedies that satirize those whom Western scholars have called “establishment intellectuals”: The Man Unconcerned with Details (Buju xiaojie de ren 不拘小节的人) (1956) and Unfinished Comedy (Wei wancheng de xiju 未完成的喜剧) (1957). Director Lü Ban did not target the selfishness or treachery of the stereotypical intellectual within the CCP discourse. He took aim, instead, at party policies and authorities in the sectors of art and culture. In The Man Unconcerned with Details, the object of derision is an accomplished writer, probably a party member, too, even though there is no explicit mention in this regard. Through a series of farcical scenes, this part-time poet and art connoisseur is depicted as absurdly self-absorbed and devoid of social consciousness. In Unfinished Comedy, the spoof goes further. The target is “an authority in literary and art criticism.” A thinly disguised caricature of rural-based party cadres who have risen to power, this unkempt middle-aged man with absurdly thick glasses speaks condescendingly and uses high-sounding party jargon and Soviet references. He rejects out of hand all theatrical experimentation that deviates from the dogma on art and politics that Mao adumbrated in the Yan'an Forum.
The Man Unconcerned with Details and Unfinished Comedy, that latter of which was banned before release, were products of the brief political thaw of the mid-1950s that engendered the Hundred Flowers campaign. Their parodying of party personnel and policies was later condemned by the Anti-Rightist movement. Lü was branded “rightist” and sentenced to labor reform. He did not make another movie (Li Duoyu 2005, 271). But the techniques of caricature and ridicule that he and others had harnessed for socialist cinema were not totally discarded along with political satire. They were redeployed to support CCP rule (Yin Hong and Ning Yan 2002, 53–58). Their incorporation in Third Sister Liu would push the representation of the intellectual in Chinese socialist cinema to its lowest point.
Singing competitions, the activity in the most famous scene of Third Sister Liu, are a popular pastime in southern, southwest, and northwest China. During the contest, the opponents take turns to ask and answer questions using folk-style singing. Because the subject matter is virtually unlimited, excellent skill in improvisation is necessary for maintaining superiority (Wenhui Bao 1961c). A former member of the film audience aptly summarized the appearance of the literati whom the wicked landlord hired to sing against Third Sister Liu—they look like “a thug, a retard, and a whoremonger” (Liu Jialing 2002, 147).6 The “thug” is played by an ugly man with unusually high cheek bones and a mouthful of crooked and discolored teeth, an actor who specialized in playing dubious characters. The “whoremonger,” a pale, skinny man with a salacious grin, is cast to insinuate that literati led decadent lifestyles and avoided physical labor. The “retard” is so convinced of his superior literary training that he does not recognize his own stupidity; he stutters, moves awkwardly, and depends on songbooks to compete with Liu. All middle-aged men, these self-proclaimed “highly regarded scholars” (mingshi 名士) are joined by two dozen useless, sycophantic literati and servants whom the landlord has brought to the showdown.
By contrast, Third Sister Liu is played by an adorable seventeen-year-old.7 The casting reinforced Mao's comment during the Leap that young people had made important contributions to Chinese history (Schram 1989, 126). A large number of peasants come to the singing contest to support her, many of them well combed and artificially tanned. They are heartily amused by the literati's failure to match her artistry. They sing with her to expose the scholars' ignorance of agricultural production. In part of the contest, the pompous literati compete with individual peasants, who hold their own against these “highly regarded scholars.” When the latter feel pressured, they proclaim repeatedly that they are followers of “ancient sages and virtuous men” and try to abuse their opponents for lacking education. But Liu hits back every time when they boast of their achievements, further criticizing their learning to the peasants' delight. The “singing competition” is magnificent theater.
Liu's assault on literary learning reaches a climax when she responds after the landlord snatches a songbook from the humiliated scholars and throws it angrily into the river. She sings,
This river is pure and clean,
Your songbook reeks.
Do not ditch your stinking book here,
For fear that it will soil the river.
Few spectators would have failed to recognize that Third Sister Liu did not simply condemn the literati. The film satirized all those now regarded by the party as intellectuals. It ridiculed their book learning and insinuated that they had been agents of class oppression. Whereas the Liuzhou authorities had skillfully staged the Leap's anti-intellectualism by refashioning Liu's legend into a musical, the movie brought to a national audience images of the intellectual as slavish and scheming. In the course of doing so, changes were made to the musical to further the feature film's appeal. For instance, the conflict between the Zhuang minority and the Han Chinese and between Liu and the patriarchal order were softened. Specific phrases that Mao used to ridicule the intellectual were inserted into the “singing competition” (Liu 2003, 580–83).
Compared to previous CCP-sponsored films about the Chinese intellectual, Third Sister Liu features a triple vanishing of representations. First, there are no positive examples of intellectuals: every educated person is criticized. Second, no intellectual becomes a better person. Third, the value of education is no longer highlighted. This does not mean that other films or plays of the period condemned the intellectual to the same extent, but that the cinematic omissions in Third Sister Liu reflected and reproduced the Leap's anti-intellectual premises.
Promoting Negative Images of Intellectuals
So far I have described the staging of Third Sister Liu in Guangxi and how the Chinese intellectual was portrayed in the movie. The discussion reveals the following elements in the CCP deployment of symbolic power, which transformed a high-level interpretation of the intellectual into local representations: official ideology, local party control, social mobilization, storytelling, and the use of visual means. Here I describe the programming of Third Sister Liu in theater and cinema and associated events in Shanghai, which illustrates further how the party involved local officials, organizations, and residents to spread and consume state-sponsored ideas, images, and language about the intellectual. The party turned the “socialist” tale of Third Sister Liu into what Lydia Liu has called “official popular culture” (2003, 554).
Table 1 reports a schedule of theater performances, television screenings, and radio broadcasts of Third Sister Liu in Shanghai between late 1960 and mid-1962. The data are drawn from two major local newspapers. They probably cover a large part but not all of such events scheduled. As the right-hand column shows, the singing competition was the first scene to be showcased on television. The subsequent schedule of theater productions only hints at the intensity with which the musical was promoted in Shanghai. By February 1961, seven months after Third Sister Liu debuted in Beijing, eight Shanghai companies had staged the musical in six genres of traditional Chinese theater. We do not know how many performances the companies put on altogether. What the Shanghai Academy of Experimental Opera went through before staging Third Sister Liu suggests that the companies performed the musical numerous times in a wide range of venues. Since the beginning of the Anti-Rightist movement, the academy had been pressured by the local government to perform more than usual. Its performances had skyrocketed from an average of 170 per year to 1,100 in 1958. Many of these performances were staged inside factories or military compounds or before village crowds (Shanghai Municipal Archives 1958, 25).
No evidence has yet been found to show that Shanghai party officials organized or supervised the productions of Third Sister Liu, as the Liuzhou and Guangxi authorities had done. The timing of the Shanghai productions, however, suggests government intervention. The height of the 1961 productions coincided with New Year celebrations in both the Western and Chinese calendars, excellent occasions for official propaganda. Third Sister Liu was promoted as actively as other cultural events, such as movies and exhibitions. The play was staged in main theaters and local playhouses, and in the city center as well as in workers' neighborhoods. In other words, Shanghai virtually hosted its own Third Sister Liu performance festival. The climax of the festival was the performance by the touring Guangxi Folk Song and Dance Theater. The company debuted in Shanghai on January 27, 1961. The same day, China's preeminent Peking Opera singer Mei Lanfang published a cheerful poem about Third Sister Liu in a major local newspaper, lauding her artistry, courage, and class consciousness—as well as the Great Leap Forward (Wenhui Bao 1961d). The following night, the performance was aired on prime time television (Wenhui Bao 1961b, 1961e).
Did some of the Shanghai theater companies present the literati more favorably in the musical than did the Liuzhou original? The local newspapers, no doubt a biased source of information, mention no such incidents. In the next section, I suggest that although we lack detailed records of the productions, it is unlikely that playwrights and directors would rewrite the musical so radically as to make the literati agreeable rather than objectionable. After the punitive Anti-Rightist movement, it would have been foolhardy for artists, who were intellectuals by official definition, to challenge the CCP's denunciation of the social category in any explicit manner.
A host of cultural activities involving many organizations were set up to support the productions. Such paratheatrical activities endorsed and reproduced the musical's language of class struggle, implicit support of the Leap, and stereotypical images of decadent, shameless, and sycophantic literati. The most obvious of such activities were newspaper articles that introduced the play and the performing troupes. Once the performance began, congratulatory commentaries flourished; pictures and drawings of the characters were published; and actors and actresses wrote in the newspapers about the play and their participation in it. The Shanghai branch of the China Record Company produced gramophone records of Third Sister Liu to coincide with the productions. The album quickly became a best seller, with the songs being played in bookstores (Wenhui Bao 1961a, 1961f). Images from the performances were included in photograph exhibitions. At Tongji University, students apparently performed scenes from Third Sister Liu as part of the 1961 commemoration of the May Fourth movement, and they created artworks based on the newly minted “socialist” legend of Third Sister Liu (Wenhui Bao 1961g; Xinmin Wanbao 1961).
Table 1 shows that the productions and broadcasts of Third Sister Liu began to peter out after three months of intense programming. One hypothesis is that the play had run its course as popular entertainment. But this explanation fails to take into account the political sponsorship of theater in socialist China, a major aspect of the CCP's deployment of symbolic power. It overlooks the probability that party personnel, having overseen and promoted the production to date, could have maintained its momentum had they chosen to do so. After all, because of its size and history in the performing arts, Shanghai had a huge potential audience for theater. An alternative hypothesis is that the performances dwindled because of the Leap's collapse. Initiated in Guangxi in 1958 at the height of the Leap, Third Sister Liu did not reach Shanghai until the mass campaign was at its final gasp in late 1960. While the performance festival was under way in early 1961, the CCP leadership had practically given up the cataclysmic, anti-intellectual project. Premiers Zhou Enlai and Chen Yi had been pushing for renewal of cooperation with scholars and others identified as intellectuals to improve national economic performance (MacFarquhar 1997, 90–120). Full-fledged support for Third Sister Liu by the Shanghai authorities was probably withdrawn when news of top-level policy and attitudinal change was confirmed in the city. The political incentive that had sustained the musical and its anti-intellectual ideology disappeared. In other words, had the Leap survived into 1961, the productions and performances of Third Sister Liu in Shanghai might not have declined. They might even have intensified, as had occurred in Guangxi two years before.
When the movie Third Sister Liu was shown in Shanghai in 1962, screening was mainly organized by the municipal government and workplaces. The picture was quickly scheduled for television release, and mobile projection teams brought the film to rural Shanghai for viewing by peasants (Wenhui Bao 1961h). The activities disseminated ideas, images, and language harmful to those identified as intellectuals to even broader audiences. This time, however, the press published some scathing criticism of Third Sister Liu. This was not because of the qualitative differences between the play and the film, but simply because the latter was released some time after the Leap had ended. The decline of anti-intellectualism within the CCP leadership suddenly threw into question the film's denunciation of the intellectual. Critics were emboldened to criticize the movie, which brings us to a broader question: how did those directly affected by the CCP classification of intellectuals respond to Third Sister Liu's anti-intellectualism?
This is a complicated question, the answer to which should be explored with the positions that individuals occupied in the official classification of intellectuals, as such positions were associated with different types of status and prospects that affected thoughts, feelings, and behavior. A university sophomore with an excellent record of political participation might have felt less threatened by Third Sister Liu's anti-intellectualism than her middle-aged instructor who had received his education entirely before the 1949 revolution, even though both were classified as intellectuals by the state. Colleagues of well-educated, ranking party members and military officers might not regard them as “ordinary” intellectuals, if they were regarded as intellectuals at all. The reification of the intellectual under CCP rule had broad and different impacts on individual lives. Available evidence, however, suggests that resistance to official representations was another important aspect in the party's effort to define the intellectual.
Reactions to Anti-Intellectualism
Like the Anti-Rightist movement, the Great Leap Forward furnished little room for public challenge against the official denunciation of the Chinese intellectual. From the beginning, however, artists and critics expressed displeasure at Third Sister Liu's attack on the social category. Their subtle resistance indicated that the threat of violence against dissenters was an important means through which the CCP enforced its representations of the intellectual.
In a recent reminiscence about the film Third Sister Liu, the author wonders how its screenwriter, Qiao Yu, felt when he penned the caricatures of the literati. A graduate of the preeminent Peking University, Qiao went to Liuzhou in the fall of 1959 with a music composer and a theater director under the auspices of the National Federation of Playwrights and the Central Academy of Experimental Opera to assist in the production of the musical (Liu Sanjie zhengli xiaozu jiti chuangzuo 1959, 101–2). He would have had no choice but to insert the caricatures into the film—but how did this intellectual, the author muses, feel about denigrating China's intellectuals? (Liu Jialing 2002, 147). The fact is that it was mainly those classified officially as intellectuals who wrote the scripts of Third Sister Liu, directed the plays, produced the movie, and published commentaries in newspapers and magazines. How did they feel about the official anti-intellectualism that they helped promote and about their paradoxical role in the party's instrument of symbolic domination? Let us return to Liuzhou and trace the reactions of writers and artists to the musical.
Materials on Liuzhou's Third Sister Liu suggest that writers and artists initially proffered many opinions on the production. Some wished that the musical would adhere to the content of the folktales. Some such opinions probably reflected dissatisfaction with the emerging “socialist” rendition of Liu's legend. Other comments that focused on sets, costumes, music, and lyrics are best seen as attempts to influence the production, which was tightly overseen by party personnel. The latter, however, rejected many suggestions on the grounds that their implementation would “water down the educational effect that the play should have” (Wu Jinnan 1962, 7). The musical was too important to be left in the hands of playwrights, theater directors, and performers.
Although we do not have detailed production records of Third Sister Liu in either Guangxi or Shanghai, it would be a mistake to think that artistic personnel enjoyed any significant latitude to rewrite or interpret the characters of the literati. Such personnel would have risked punishment if party officials saw the revisions to the musical as veiled criticisms of the Anti-Rightist movement or opposition to the Leap. Some companies probably lightened the musical's anti-intellectualism with casting, costume, acting, or other aspects of theater. From the commentaries on the Guangxi, Beijing, and Shanghai performances, however, it is difficult to detect substantive differences in the characterization of the literati—they are pompous, ignorant, and pathetic in all cases.
Yet the commentaries from these places subtly reveal the critics' dissatisfaction with the musical's anti-intellectualism. There was an eerie silence on the singing competition. No one offered any sustained opinion on this most famous scene, let alone an in-depth analysis of the characterization of the literati. In comparison, the composition of other scenes, scene transitions, musical arrangement and lyrics, and—quite prominently—Liu's character received profuse attention and approbation, and even minor complaints. Why did the most famous and entertaining scene receive the least adulation in the press?
A concatenation of evidence on the broader political context suggests that the absence of praise and criticism of the singing competition represented a form of passive resistance. Many classified as intellectuals, including writers and scholars, had criticized the party not long ago and had been punished with intensive political study, removal of authority and responsibilities, and even labor reform during the Anti-Rightist movement. Since then, the official press had been lashing out at “bourgeois intellectuals” and publicized the foibles and wrongdoings of those identified as such. During the Leap, the manual labor imposed on teachers and others classified as intellectuals further diminished their social status. Third Sister Liu mocked the intellectual under this harsh political climate. Between applauding the singing competition, which would have endorsed the CCP's anti-intellectualism, and criticizing the scene, which could have put one's career and livelihood at risk, critics chose to write about other aspects of the musical.
Some writers did express reservation about the singing competition, but without taking aim directly at the party's anti-intellectualism. In fact, Qiao Yu published some back-handed criticism of the scene before turning the musical into a movie script. “If we look at reality,” he wrote, “there were not that many literati who could and liked to sing folksongs. Literati and folksongs were parts of two different worlds. I met a teacher who has lived in the heart of folk singing in Guangxi for sixty to seventy years. When I mentioned folksongs to him, he was surprised and speechless, apparently not knowing that there are still folksongs around” (Qiao Yu 1960, 69). Qiao implied that the singing competition had no historical basis, while other writers repeated the “socialist” tale of Third Sister Liu as if it were a historical fact. She might well have been a brilliant peasant folksinger, but the singing literati were fabrications. The literati were inserted into the play to “make the character of Third Sister Liu more perfect and closer to the ideal [of a peasant heroine]” (Qiao Yu 1960, 69–70).
When the feature film Third Sister Liu was released in late 1961, the Leap had collapsed for all intents and purposes. The CCP leadership had readopted more practical economic measures and checked the virulent anti-intellectualism in official ideology. By April 1962, the party had issued new policies on science, higher education, literature, art, and theater and film to promote local cooperation with scholars, teachers, scientists, and artists (MacFarquhar 1997, 90–120). This high-level change of heart overlapped with some forthright criticism of the movie that had not been seen with the play. Critics deployed their knowledge of history and argumentative skill to undermine the credibility of the “socialist” tale of the folksinger.
The main criticism was that Liu had been turned from a mythical folk figure into an idealized revolutionary. That is, playwrights and screenwriters had imposed on the folksinger class consciousness and organizing skills typical of a professional Communist. Such “modernizing” (xiandaihua 现代化) of Liu, some critics argued, made her look like a Communist Youth League member. Painting themselves as good socialists, some argued that the movie had stripped from the folklore of Liu all nuances reflecting the sentiments of the “laboring masses.” They claimed that such sentiments had engendered the legend in the first place and enhanced its popularity over time. “In the search for the true Third Sister Liu,” as one critic put it, “the play has left out the truth” (Gao Zhenhe 1962, 20). Another stated that the movie “confounds the past and present and turns them upside down, and thus possesses no basic historical value” (Jia Ji 1962b, 3). They argued that Third Sister Liu disguises rather than describes class exploitation, a strategy calculated to fend off accusations that they were against socialism.
Some of the criticisms of the film were aimed more closely at the party. One critic cautioned that “we cannot handle our historical legacy crudely and brutally (cubao 粗暴)” (Jia Ji 1962a, 22). The use of the term cubao, which means vicious, rude, and violent, was particularly poignant. The term had been used by writers, teachers, and others regarded as intellectuals in the Hundred Flowers campaign to criticize the behavior of party officials toward colleagues outside of the party; here it conjures up the image of party personnel violating history.
The scathing criticisms discredited the “socialist” tale of Third Sister Liu and put her folklore back on its feet. Their publication was evidence of political change since the musical debuted in Beijing two years before. Even Mao's homage to the play for being an emblem of the Chinese revolution was no longer unassailable. One critic wrote that Liu “was a singing immortal and an idealized creation of the laboring masses—not a leader of peasant revolutions” (Xi Gao 1962, 20).
Despite such intense criticism of Third Sister Liu, no critics took on its anti-intellectualism. As before, the singing competition and caricatures of the literati occupy a negligible part in the commentaries—the most famous scene still elicited no critical review. Why did critics not dispute the musical's denigration of the intellectual? Did they not want to speak out for themselves and all those regarded as intellectuals? As we shall see, when prodded by higher authorities, some writers and artists attempted to represent the intellectual in a more favorable light than had been the case in Third Sister Liu. The post-Leap silence surrounding the singing competition suggests that critics were reluctant to speak on behalf of the intellectual unless they received political support. This brings us to the official representation of the intellectual in the early 1960s and the fate of the musical during the Cultural Revolution.
Third Sister Liu versus Early Spring in February
The 1963 movie Early Spring in February exemplifies an alternate official representation of the Chinese intellectual (Zaochun eryue 早春二月 1963). The latter became a substrate upon which another vision and division of society was written. This kinder and gentler construction, although sponsored by the CCP, was promptly rejected by Mao. In Shanghai, the authorities quickly organized screenings and criticisms of the movie to assert the “correct” interpretation of the picture. The process further revealed mechanisms that the party used locally to promote its perspectives on the intellectual. During the Cultural Revolution, Third Sister Liu was widely denounced in its birthplace for hiding the truth about class struggle. This reinterpretation of the musical lent support to the Cultural Revolution's representation of the intellectual as a class enemy, furthering the pains of those regarded locally as intellectuals.
Merle Goldman's account of post-Leap politics lays out the factional struggle within the highest level of the party that shaped the official perspective on the Chinese intellectual before the Cultural Revolution. After the Leap, Premier Zhou Enlai and other party officials proclaimed that it was wrong to see China's intellectuals as “bourgeois intellectuals,” and supported plans to grant such people greater responsibilities, autonomy, and freedom of speech. Writers and artists close to these leaders produced works that criticized the Leap and even Mao. In literature and film, variegated depictions of human experience were encouraged at the expense of “model characters” in class struggle (Goldman 1981, 18–60). At the same time, however, Mao's denunciation of intellectuals as real and potential class enemies intensified. He broadened the label “bourgeois intellectuals” to include scientists, teachers, and other white-collar workers produced under CCP sponsorship after 1949. He claimed that these new intellectuals had been corrupted by the old ones, who (he alleged) still controlled education, industry, and other sectors. To Mao, it was therefore necessary to redeploy intense labor reeducation, political study, and rectification campaigns against intellectuals to protect and further Chinese socialism (Yang Fengcheng 2005, 170–77).
What happened to the star-studded 1963 movie Early Spring in February, which is set in the mid-1920s, epitomized this high-level struggle to redefine the intellectual for Chinese socialism. In the movie, Xiao Jianqiu, a teachers' college graduate, withdraws to a small town and teaches in a friend's school. He meets his friend's stylish, educated sister Tao Lan and introduces her to the radical journal New Youth (Xin qingnian 新青年).8 Upon learning that a fellow intellectual has died as a soldier and left behind a widow and two small children, Xiao does everything he can to help the poor family. His colleagues, however, spread rumors that he fornicates with the widow. In a desperate move to save the latter from committing suicide after her son passes away because of illness, Xiao offers to marry her despite the fact that he likes Tao. The widow hangs herself, leaving behind her daughter, for whom Tao and her family take responsibility. Fed up with the town's parochialism, tragedies, and inequalities, Xiao decides to devote himself to revolution. The film ends with Tao learning of Xiao's departure and dashing off to find him, implying that she might follow his path.
Early Spring is the antithesis of Third Sister Liu with regard to the depiction of the intellectual. Xiao and Tao are good-looking and dedicated educators; they are kind and thoughtful and torn between their ideals, romance, and everyday life in a provincial town; they are friends of the poor and ultimately choose revolution to improve China. The film features less admirable intellectuals, and therefore the notion that there is a diversity of intellectuals. The poor are important not because they fight against class oppression as in Third Sister Liu, but because they are the object of intellectuals' sympathy.
Like Third Sister Liu, Early Spring was produced under CCP supervision. Vice Minister of Culture Xia Yan, an active participant in the May Fourth movement four decades before, was firmly behind the project. After the Leap, he had spoken against its approach to film production. Like Zhou Enlai, he proclaimed that there was no need to be suspicious of intellectuals (Pickowicz 1985, 98–100). He personally revised the movie script and shot sequences “in over one hundred places” to achieve the effects he wanted. The film was approved by the Ministry of Culture and the CCP Department of Propaganda (Li Duoyu 2005, 338). Early Spring was supposed to be part of the official representation of the intellectual.
In the fall of 1964, Early Spring was screened nationwide, but not as an official portrayal of the Chinese intellectual. Mao and his supporters had gained the upper hand on this issue and singled out this and other movies for denunciation. Because the film features kind-hearted, righteous intellectuals and their romance and soul-searching and apparently identifies with higher learning and formal education rather than the labor of workers and peasants, it contradicts Mao's intent to deepen class struggle across state and society. Early Spring was condemned as “impregnated with the venom of bourgeois thinking,” “nakedly beautifying bourgeois individualism,” and “disguising and playing down class conflict.” The director was forced to pen self-criticism, while Xia Yan was removed from some of his positions (Dai Zhixian 2004, 611). The attack on Early Spring proved that Third Sister Liu's critics had been right about their muted resistance to the official denigration of the intellectual—speaking out for this social category was a dangerous business, even with high-level backing.
In Shanghai, Early Spring received little attention on its day of release. The next day, crowds gathered outside cinemas as early as seven o'clock in the morning, because People's Daily, the official organ of the CCP Central Committee, had published criticisms of the movie. The authorities quickly ruled that tickets would not be sold to individuals, but that screening would be organized by official agencies together with workplaces. Initial reactions from audiences suggest confusion as to why the film had been denounced. Some mentioned that “there is nothing wrong with the movie” even after they had read the criticisms (Shanghai Municipal Archives 1964b, 152–55). The Leap and Third Sister Liu had put down the Chinese intellectual, but the audience would need further training by the local authorities to recognize Early Spring's “insidiousness.” Many did not see its portrayal of the intellectual as objectionable.
In fact, before Early Spring's release, the Shanghai government had organized screenings for students, workers, teachers, and party and Youth League cadres. It had identified many “incorrect” understandings of the movie in post-viewing “discussions” (zuotanhui 座谈会). On this basis, the audience, more than 420,000 people between the months of September and October, were required to undergo “decontamination” (xiaodu 消毒) before watching the film, by listening to reports from the CCP Department of Propaganda and reading criticisms of the movie. After viewing, they were required to participate in one or two one-hour sessions of discussion to ensure their “correct” understanding of the film. Despite such official intervention, many secondary and college students, the authorities noted, still had their own views of the movie and their own motives for watching it (Shanghai Municipal Archives 1964a, 14–20, 47–48, 62–63).
This brief account of the production, condemnation, and reception of Early Spring indicates that post-Leap CCP redefinitions of the intellectual, too, featured political organization and coercion, visual and written representations, and resistance at the local level. How this intense, state-led process spiraled toward widespread persecution of writers, scholars, and others identified as intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution can only be a topic for future research. We can conclude here that there was no simple, one-on-one connection between the Leap attack on the intellectual and the later brutality against those regarded locally as intellectuals. An analysis of state–society interactions in the post-Leap struggle to redefine the subject will help illuminate the slide toward barbarism.
On the surface, Third Sister Liu's anti-intellectualism squared well with the Cultural Revolution's assault on the Chinese intellectual; however, the musical was widely condemned in 1967 and 1968 in Guangxi Province, the heart of Liu's folklore and the place where the musical had originated. As Maoist attack on party authorities for betraying socialism strengthened, newspaper articles accused the play of hiding the fact that violence was essential in fighting against exploiting classes—“how could anyone topple landlords and their accomplices by merely singing against them?” (He Peisong 1986, 18; Liu Sanjie zhuanji 1979, 266–75). Like post-Leap reforms in government and other sectors, the play was denounced as part of an extensive plot to restore capitalism all over China. The young actress who had played Third Sister Liu in the film, a native of Guangxi, was arrested, paraded, and subjected to labor reeducation (He Peisong 1986).
The “socialist” tale of Third Sister Liu, which Mao had applauded as exemplary less than a decade before, was now maligned, just as Liuzhou had treated the original folktales of the singing legend. The story of Liu singing, successfully, against class oppression was seen as fanciful and impregnated with ruling-class ideas that masked the reality of class struggle. Whereas the original folktales had protected the landlord class by depicting Liu in friendly singing competitions with the literati, the logic goes, the latest version that depicts her singing against landlords, however palatable it may have seemed to peasants or workers, served the interests of incumbent officials, writers, and others who were not true Communists but wanted to stay in power to reinstate capitalism. Violence was necessary to take down these “capitalist roaders.”
Separated by less than a decade, the two attacks on Liu's story had ramifications of life-and-death significance for those identified locally as intellectuals. The original assault had derided their learning and character and hence justified their labor reeducation and loss of authority during the Leap. The other assault, which espoused violence, was far more inhumane. It lent support to the powerful Cultural Revolution view of the intellectual as a class enemy—a representation that encouraged widespread violence against so-called intellectuals and even murders. The Maoist condemnation of Third Sister Liu was more anti-intellectual than the musical itself.
To conclude, this article has regarded the Chinese intellectual as a substrate upon which the CCP organized and promoted its vision and division of society. My analysis identifies representation, organization, and threat of punishment as elements that underpinned the party's symbolic power in defining the intellectual. I have illustrated resistance toward official representations of the subject. The reification of the Chinese intellectual under CCP rule, which Third Sister Liu both reflected and reinforced, had serious impacts on official policy, social organization, and individual lives.
I thank Tim Cheek, Helen Dunstan, Tim Fitzpatrick, Derek Herforth, Linus Huang, Yiyan Wang, and the anonymous reviewers for their advice and encouragement. The Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and the University of Sydney provided financial support.
English accounts have described the music, lyrics, and other aspects of Third Sister Liu, but not its representation of the Chinese intellectual or the significance of the “singing competition” (Clark 1987, 108–9; Kagan 1963; Mackerras 1992; Zhang 1997). Two works, by Wai-fong Loh (1984) and Lydia H. Liu (2003), are particularly noteworthy for their analysis of how the folklore of Third Sister Liu was transformed into a major official production.
Recently, one Deng family in Guangxi sued the Liuzhou playwrights responsible for staging the play. The family alleged that the authorities had plagiarized a script titled Third Sister Liu written by their father, Deng Changling. The case was decided in the plaintiff's favor after more than three years of litigation. One of the defendants, however, still maintains the originality of the play, insisting that they had not done anything wrong (see “Liu Sanjie shi shei de nü'er,” http://www.ccqtv.com/20050420/75594.shtml). Ironically, the playwrights themselves, capitalizing on new copyright laws, had sued the scriptwriter of the movie Third Sister Liu a few years earlier on copyright issues and elicited a public apology from him (Liu 2003, 553, 586). The legal cases raise questions about the play's originality, but not the ways in which the production was organized during the Leap.
See Merle Goldman (1967, 261–71) for He Qifang's reactions to the Leap.
The May Fourth movement refers to the 1919 mass demonstration in urban China against decisions made at the Paris Peace Conference to transfer former German concessions in the northeastern Shandong Province to Japan's control. The phrase is also used to refer to the flourishing of new ideas and debates in education, culture, and art in China from the late 1910s to the mid-1920s (Schwarcz 1986; Yeh 1996).
For a fuller discussion of movies about Chinese intellectuals in the early and mid-1950s, see Meng Liye (2003, 25–29, 81–83, 201–13).
See the image of the three literati in the film Third Sister Liu at http://img.v19.56.com/images/21/18/huqiutai56olo56i56.com_zhajm_11940487698x.jpg [accessed October 6, 2009].
See the image of Third Sister Liu in the 1961 film at http://stars.zaobao.com/foreignstar/images/sanjie180700.jpg [accessed October 6, 2009].
See the image of Xiao Jianqiu and Tao Lan in the film Early Spring in February at http://bbs.sznsnews.com/upload/20071228/U200712281198829949853.jpg [accessed October 6, 2009].