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The “Seventeen Years” between 1949 and the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution are seen as a golden age of socialist drama. This view gains merit by contrast to Cultural Revolution turmoil, but did Jiang Qing’s intervention into Chinese drama suppress a thriving socialist cultural realm? Archival sources and confidential journals support the argument that professional drama troupes in Hubei faced dueling demands from their audiences and the Communist Party during the Seventeen Years. Cultural leaders advocated modern revolutionary dramas, but these were usually upstaged by the traditional operas most villagers preferred. Traditional actors falsely claiming amateur status staged old favorites for high salaries. Even after a campaign to suppress illegal troupes, the preference for traditional opera in cultural markets ensured conflict between professional actors and the party. In the dramatic realm, local culture proved resistant to party control and remained wedded to economic and artistic concerns. Revolutionary dramas had forceful backers, but until the Cultural Revolution traditional operas dominated rural cultural markets.