Singing in the Dark: Film and Cultural Revolution Musical Culture

  • Paul Clark
Part of the Chinese Literature and Culture in the World book series (CLCW)


Music and film remain central in Cultural Revolution memories to this day. This chapter will attempt to show the importance of films in the musical and everyday life of that decade (1966–1976). It will argue that without films as a medium of promulgating, popularizing, and elaborating the music of the Cultural Revolution, musical memories of those years would probably be much less significant. I will also show how films were a core part of the creation of the model Peking operas that dominated musical life in that era. When new feature films appeared from the studios from 1973 their songs were vital to the impact and popularity of the new works. The chapter will first outline how films assumed these vital functions in popular musical life in the 17 years before the start of the Cultural Revolution and then examine the various ways in which films served music after 1966—including those that may not be obvious. Music and film in the Cultural Revolution offer a case study in intertextuality, in which songs or musical themes developed in a film and a particular context are repeated and become elaborated in new styles in later films, on radio and loudspeaker, in classrooms and workplaces, in performances, and in quiet resistance. In short, the musical soundtracks of the Cultural Revolution decade owed an enormous debt to films. The success of the various kinds of music was in large part due to films.


Cultural Revolution Feature Film Film Version Musical Culture Musical Memory 
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    Much work remains to be done in this area. Jubin Hu, Projecting a Nation: Chinese National Cinema before 1949 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003)Google Scholar
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    In 1958 and 1959, film studios produced 180 films, which compared with 171 films made in the 1949–1957 period by the state-run studios: Paul Clark, Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 80.Google Scholar
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    The central narrative of the film features a communist soldier arriving in the district to collect folk songs to turn into revolutionary and patriotic ditties in the midst of the war with Japan. For more on The Yellow Earth and its significance, see Paul Clark, Reinventing China: A Generation and Its Films (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2005), 82–89.Google Scholar

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© Paul Clark 2016

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  • Paul Clark

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