Yang Bang Xi: The Eight Model Works

Elizabeth Wichmann-Walczak, Professor of Theatre and Director of the Asian Theatre Program, Department of Theatre and Dance, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, was the first non-Chinese to perform Jingiu (Chinese opera) in the People's Republic of China, and has published extensively on the subject. A survivor of the Cultural Revolution, Chen Xiaomei, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis, is the author of Acting the Right Part: Political Theater and Popular Drama in Contemporary China.

During China's Cultural Revolution, productions such as Red Detachment of Women or The White-Haired Girl featured ballerinas pirouetting with rifles held aloft, or male dancers executing venal landlords. On screen and stage these fiercely propagandistic stories, part Chinese classical ballad, part MGM musical, in which songs praising Mao always seemed to coincide with a glorious sunrise, were termed yang ban xi, and they were the only form of art allowed. Eight of the most popular revolutionary operas (essentially dramatic ballets with song) were termed “the 8 Model Works.” Captured on film in gorgeous Technicolor and Scope, their influence was incalculable; the main performers became instant stars, revered throughout China. Today, young Chinese who crowd Starbucks cafes and modern discotheques are starting to learn about the very different world that was China just decades ago, yet the yang ban xi remain curiously alive, as two vibrant contemporary dance numbers done for this film attest.

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