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  • The Art of Cloning: Creative Production During China's Cultural Revolution by Laikwan Pang
  • Yanping Guo
The Art of Cloning: Creative Production During China's Cultural Revolution, by Laikwan Pang. London: Verso Books, 2017. 320 pp. US$34.95 (Hardcover). ISBN: 9781784785208.

Joining the large effort of revisiting China's socialist legacy, studies of the Cultural Revolution have gained momentum. The major research in this field has been devoted to investigating the historical facts that are still covered up by the Chinese Communist Party. These studies strive to cast rigorous condemnation on the Cultural Revolution while tending to regard the artwork produced in this period as merely a brainwashing tool. However, it can never be overlooked that the appropriation of culture by the ordinary people during that time played a crucial role in igniting the political fanaticism and turning Mao's revolution into a bottom-up mass movement. As Laikwan Pang argues in her new book The Art of Cloning, no total control can be exerted effectively without granting the individuals some sorts of autonomy, in which the propagandistic culture functions as the major site to cultivate their sense of "self" in relation to the dominant ideology. By highlighting the significant role of the culture in sustaining or obstructing the operation of revolution, Pang focuses less on the official propagandistic arts than the complicated interactions among the arts and the politics embodied in common people's everyday life. Her ardent attempt to rewrite the cultural history of the Cultural Revolution from the plebeian perspective greatly distinguishes her work from previous studies.

Methodologically, this book is unique in a way that the concept of "cultural production," which often is associated with the capital-oriented cultural industry, is creatively introduced to structure the discussion of cultural practices that is contextualized in the typical socialist period of anticapitalism. Pang recognizes the widespread circulation of propagandistic arts and thus considers the Cultural Revolution not as a pure top-down control but an alternative model of cultural economy, enabling people to engage in the political participation through the production and consumption of the artwork. More specifically, given that the Maoist propaganda was characterized by erecting cultural models to indoctrinate the masses, Pang employs the term "social mimesis" to analyze how people get involved in the "creative production" by both following after and deviating from the prevailing political culture. Another distinguishing feature about this book is that Pang successfully develops the "dialectical reasoning" along with her insightful writings. Provided that [End Page 195] the Cultural Revolution, as an extremely dialectical period, has witnessed various forces oscillating between the two opposing poles, Pang unfolds the arguments revolving in the change of conflicting ideas and facts and endow the Cultural Revolution with the meticulous sense of the Hegelian historical view.

The whole book is divided into two main parts. Part I consists of two chapters and provides a conceptual framework of the project. In Chapter 1, Pang explains why the arts are of importance to Maoist politics. Pang first examines the term "Maoist romanticism" to establish the link between the arts and politics in the context of the Cultural Revolution. Then she emphasizes the dialectical role of Maoist aesthetics in not only conjuring up an imaginary reality that justified the chaos in real life but also carrying forward the potentiality to escape from the dominant ideology. Chapter 2 further investigates the question on how the artwork actually circulates or takes effect within the system of cultural economy. Drawing upon and countering to the Marxist theory of commodity, Pang explores not the profits but the propagandistic value of Maoist artwork, whose nature is to both serve the vertical Mao-Masses political communication and facilitate the horizontal peer-to-peer community formation. Such diverse cultural exchanges were made possible by people's active reproduction of the propagandistic arts, which probably resulted in unsettling the totalitarian order.

Part II comprises five chapters, devoted to explaining how ordinary people would get involved with Maoist artwork and how this kind of cultural experience contributed to the subject formation. Chapter 3 lays the theoretical ground for further case studies by delineating the cultural logic of erecting models and making copies, which appeared...


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pp. 195-197
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