CCSS 1003Book ReviewYeung Lai Ying (1155065073)Book Review: Mittler, Barbara. A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of CulturalRevolution Culture . Harvard University Asia Center, 2012.
Barbara Mittler is a German sinologist and she studied sinology, musicology andJapanese studies in Oxford University. Her research papers often studies the correlationbetween art and culture during the revolution period in China. Art is a common item usedfor propaganda since art is always a good tool to convey message. Mittler is familiar instudying the items used for propaganda which help shaping a mythical figure for MaoZedong.This paper examines three elements of the culture of Cultural Revolution and they aremusic, texts and images. Mittler is well-educated and experienced in doing analysis onmusic, therefore, I do think the music analysis is the best and comprehensive among thethree of them.
The items which symbolize the three elements are the “Mao Music” -modern operas which performing the story during Cultural Revolution and Red songs,”Mao Speak” – the modified version of The Three Characters Classic (Sanzijing) and the”Mao Art” – the portrait of Mao and the comic books. Moreover, the author resolves themyths about the Cultural Revolution which gives an important contribution towards theCultural Revolution studies. This paper aims to prove the culture of Cultural Revolutionhas long been influencing China and the how popular of this culture.The author illustrates the ideas with varieties of materials. For the part of music, theauthor analyze with the model works and songs in Cultural Revolution. In addition, sheargues that the western classical music was widespread in China during CulturalRevolution and well-adapted in China.
It further forms its own Mao Music (Mao Opera)with the content and historical background of Cultural Revolution with the foundation ofwestern opera. Moreover, she claims that the Cultural Revolution was a high point ofpolitical music.Then it comes to the part of texts, she illustrates the ideas with the Three CharacterClassic and the words of Mao since his words was recorded and published. The thoughtsof Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution have a continuous influence to theperception. For example, there was a new interpretation of Three Character Classic byMao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution from embracing the Confucianism tocriticizing the Confucian culture. Therefore, the authors argues that Mao Speak was ahigh point of the political texts.
It further moves on to the part of Mao Art, the author demonstrate her ideas with Maoportraits and the comic books, and they are certainly the representatives of Mao Art. Theauthors argues that the Mao portrait has a powerful effect on the continuous impact onpeople’s lives. Mao Art turns Mao Zedong to be the new and popular religion in CulturalRevolution and its impacts could be still seen in nowadays.
He is similar to a ritual objectthat his portrait has been reproduced for so many times. Mao Art is a high point ofpolitical art.The limitation of a research often appears on the quantity and the quality. First, I questionabout the size of the number of informants, I wonder whether 40 of them is sufficientenough to represent the majority as from her book, the mindsets of these 40 informantsrepresent the thoughts of “many people”. Although the author emphasizes the selectedgroup are elites in urban China, the sample size of the interview is still too small torepresent most of the Chinese people. Their opinions are lack of diversity and complexitywhich is hard to convince the readers and recognized by the public.Then I question about whether the people could really represent the public and whetherthe case study is the typical and common case happened in Cultural Revolution.
Forexample, the author would like to prove that almost every adolescence are obsessed withthe western culture that each of them own a foreign song book during CulturalRevolution. However, the example of demonstrating this point are a list of intervieweesand two university professors are included in the list. It is nonsense for sure that they arethe representatives of the youths at that time. This case is atypical and unusual.
I queryher way on adopting the methodology, interview for her research regardless of thedecision on sample size and the selection of interviewees. It seems like the author isfinding its own target group which fits her desired assumption. Moreover, it isunderstandable that the author would like to conduct her interview with the method ofrandom sample, however, the way she “randomly” pick the interviewees is really “toorandom” especially when her sample size is that small. The interviewees have no anysimilarity, they are really randomly picked from the large pool of art field, the factors ofthe selection of interviewees are all variables, not involving any controlled variables, andthe result will then result in unreliable which leads to unconvincing. In fact, 40interviewees is not a small sample size and it might possibly an impressive number in aresearch but if the author would like to use this group of people to represent the Chinesepeople during the Cultural Revolution, it is relatively too small and it is impossible forthe author to use the data collected from this interview to prove her claim, the resultmight be true but it should be considered as invalid in my point of view.This paper is well organized by studying the how the 5 senses that influenced by the artforms and propaganda.
Everyone are using their senses to feel the world, and choosingthe senses to divide the paper into parts and do the analysis is creative and clear, and theflow is logical. Although the flow is logical, it does not mean that the content is logical. Iwould like to raise the flaw of the condition of the research questions. The author wouldlike to focus only the propaganda art and therefore she would like to eliminate otherperspectives such as the political perspectives. Nevertheless, people is confused about thecontradiction of the term “propaganda art”. Since propaganda art is used with purposeand the propaganda art that the author would like to study is during the period of CulturalRevolution, I wonder how it would be possible to separate the political perspective andart as propaganda art is inevitable the product of politics and art. I understand that theauthor would like to think out of the box, it is possible to study the propaganda art in theperspective of art more than the political side or apply a new view or concept to look intopropaganda art but it is impossible to eliminate this main component of propaganda artand that is politics.
However, this paper still contributes a lot on the understanding ofmodern China’s political and art culture.The other new concept raised by the authors that makes me confused is the extension ofCultural Revolution. I see the point of extension and I understand the concept behind byexplaining the continuous effect of the revolution that it is not ended after a particularincident but the decrease in the level of influence. However, I do not understand the wayof the author to define when is the said to be still the Cultural Revolution period andwhen is not. She fails to make a clear definition and how does she rationalize her conceptof creating the new periodizing.Although the methodology of proving her own claims is questionable due to herunconvincing data collected from the interview and the flaw of bringing out her newconcepts, the author still make an important and significant contribution to the study ofCultural Revolution since the paper raise a new perspective when looking into Culturalrevolution and the author did successfully break down the myths of Cultural Revolutionso that the researchers in the future could do further study based on what she has resolvedfor the myths such as the freedom of people was deprived of sensory pleasure and artisticenjoyment due to the restrictions under Cultural Revolution, the art forms under westernculture are strongly forbidden to enter China and Chinese people were therefore not ableto get in touch of the western music and art, the western culture is hard to be seen duringthe period of Cultural Revolution, the misunderstanding of overestimating the disruptivelevel during Cultural Revolution.