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  • Flowers on the Battlefield are More Fragrant1
  • Lei Ouyang Bryant (bio)

"New Songs of the Battlefield" (Zhandi Xinge) is a five-volume anthology of songs published from 1972 to 1976 during the latter half of the Cultural Revolution in China (1966–1976). The songs were designed as new artistic works to promote political campaigns and ideologies. Rarely mentioned in English or Chinese language texts, the songs have long been overlooked for their overt political content from the Cultural Revolution period and perceived lack of attention to artistic merit. Yet the songs had a far-reaching impact on Chinese society and many are remembered today. I present eight musical examples for documentation and analysis as not only a record of music in modern China but also as an account of the unique historical, political, and social period in modern Chinese history.

A typical response while pouring over the 556 songs of the anthology is how the songs, their themes, content and language all reveal the history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Key political campaigns and ideologies of the period are clearly presented in song titles and text. Musically, the songs span a broad range of compositional style, including militaristic chants, mass songs, lyrical ballads, work songs, children's songs, and songs of various ethnic groups.

This article offers insight into the anthology through specific musical examples and their political and historical context; the examples may be utilized as reference material for the historic period. English translations, transliterations, and staff notation of original Chinese language and cipher notation source materials are presented in an attempt to make the materials available to a new audience, reaching beyond those familiar with the Chinese language. To begin, major cultural policies that informed the music and arts of the Cultural Revolution period are introduced in relation to the anthology. Then, I provide a brief introduction to the music and arts of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (and recent scholarship), including examples of music and lyrics from the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The third section introduces the "New Songs of the Battlefield" (hereafter, "New Songs") anthology, including details of the compilation and editing processes along with a thematic overview of the individual songs. Basic musical characteristics are introduced and followed by selected examples of classics and newly-composed songs for further investigation. Beyond the documentation and analysis of the anthology itself, the [End Page 88] materials provide significant primary source materials that may be examined in future studies.

The musical examples consist of one song that represents the compositional style and arrangement common to the earlier years of the Cultural Revolution followed by seven songs that illustrate the broad span of composers, musical form, themes, and arrangements found in the "New Songs" anthology. Selecting seven examples from the collection of over 500 songs is a daunting task and, inevitably, a seemingly endless number of combinations are possible; however, the selected songs appear as representative works and specific examples of how music was used as a tool for promoting political campaigns and political ideologies of the time.

Cultural Policies

Using music as a political tool certainly predates Mao and the Chinese Communist Party in Chinese history; however, the development that occurred under Mao's direction plays a large role in modern Chinese history. The use of songs as a political tool in educating the masses is a long-standing practice advocated in the earliest classics; in recent centuries, the practice has been documented from the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s up to the very recent past.

Songs used for educating the masses are generally simple tunes with texts serving educational and political means; nineteenth-century examples most often combine music from abroad with elements of traditional Chinese folk music. The songs are sung at political rallies and public assemblies to promote support of the state and specific political movements, directives, and policies (Wong 1984, 112).

During the Taiping Rebellion of 1851– 1864, Protestant hymns were adapted for the dissemination of political campaigns. Following the 1911 Nationalist Revolution, songs with socio-political messages were incorporated into both primary and middle school curriculums (Wong 1984, 115–6). Over the next decade, intellectuals began to look toward the Russian Revolution...


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