Mao Songs

“Socialism has been reduced to a single, short chapter in the senior high school history course. Chinese Communism before the economic reform that began in 1979 is covered in a sentence. The text mentions Mao only once — in a chapter on etiquette…
Students now study Mao — still officially revered as the founding father of modern China but no longer regularly promoted as an influence on policy — only in junior high. In the senior high school text, he is mentioned only fleetingly as part of a lesson on the custom of lowering flags to half-staff at state funerals, like Mao’s in 1976”.
“Where’s Mao? Chinese Revise History Books”, Joseph Kahn, New York Times, September 1, 2006

June–July 2005: thirty-five Beijing musicians are invited to sing a selection from Mao Zedong’s Long March poems. Allowed minimal preparation, they sing the poem in any musical idiom they wish. Each performance is videotaped. The poems used for this project (Huichang, Loushan Pass, Three Short Poems, The Long March, Mount Liupan, and Snow) were written between 1934-36, predating the foundation of the Communist State.

The invited performers represent a wide range of musicians. They include traditional musicians from Tiantan and Jingshan Parks, pop and karaoke singers from the bars in Hou Hai, street musicians from Dongzhimen, Xidan and Dongsishitiao subways, and rock and roll vocalists from clubs like Yu Gong Yi Shan and Nameless Highland. Where possible, the performers are filmed on location.

The high visibility of Beijing music communities makes their utopian impulse apparent. All musical performance brings about a momentary utopian experience. To experience music is to glimpse a better world. In their informal collectives musicians design temporary models of utopian communities and, long after these groups have dissolved, their music provides evidence of what might have been possible.

Mao Songs joins a contemporary utopian project with a historical one. Describing an intense immersion in nature, Mao issues a revolutionary call as if linking this enjoyment of the landscape with its defense. In Mao’s productionist poems the combination of revolutionary demands with an insistence on the value of sensory pleasures recalls other Socialist literature, Surrealist writing in particular. The Surrealists reveal the city as the marvelous nature that social revolution will make accessible to others. Mao’s poems suggest that the transformation of the individual through experience of nature has to be part of the larger revolutionary program of social reorganisation. In this sense he is proposing a utopian project that remains part of the content of his grand social engineering failures like The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution, which bind successful social transformation to the idea that inherent values lie in rural life.

Mao Zedong poems

Mao reviewing troops, c. 1935

Three Short Poems

I whip my swift horse, glued to my saddle.
I turn my head startled,
The sky is three foot three above me!

Like great waves surging in a crashing sea,
Like a thousand stallions
In full gallop in the heat of battle.

Piercing the blue of heaven, your barbs unblunted!
Thee skies would fall
But for your strength supporting.

Loushan Pass
February 1935

Fierce the west wind,
Wild geese cry under the frosty morning moon.
Under the frosty morning moon
Horses’ hooves clattering,
Bugles sobbing low.

Idle boast the strong pass is a wall of iron,
With f­irm strides we are crossing its summit.
We are crossing its summit,
The rolling hills sea-blue,
The dying sun blood-red.

The Long March
October 1935

The Red Army fears not the trials of the Long March,
Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
The Five Ridges wind like gentle ripples
And the majestic Wumeng roll by, globules of clay.
Warm the steep cliffs lapped by the waters of Golden Sand,
Cold the iron chains spanning the Dadu River.
Minshan’s thousand li of snow joyously crossed,
The three Armies march on, each face glowing.

Mount Liupan
October 1935

The sky is high, the clouds are pale,
We watch the wild geese vanish southward.
If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men,
We who have already measured twenty thousand li.

High on the crest of Mount Liupan
Red banners wave freely in the west wind.
Today we hold the long cord in our hands,
When shall we bind fast the Grey Dragon?

Foreign Languages Press, China