XIE JIN – THE RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN – 1961
This film, and the story behind,
became the soil on which a ballet developed. This ballet became one of the
central proletarian myths during the Cultural Revolution in China and the
hallmark of Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing. She ended badly but the ballet has
survived and is considered in China
as a classic and is still performed. It is interesting to look at the film and
try to understand the story behind this classic ballet.
The story is interesting in two
First the position of women in
the revolutionary army and in the Communist Party of China is in many ways
ahead of its time in the 1930s and in China in the 1960s. It is a highly
pro-women discourse that does not simply integrate women in the revolutionary
army, but integrates them with their own battalions and army, the Women Army,
as the subtitles say. They are thus separate and equal. We would criticize this
today but in older times that was the recognition of the singularity of women,
of their special needs and their special potential.
On that point the film goes as
far as having a wedding in this revolutionary army and a subsequent birth. The
baby is the baby of the Women Army as a whole. Women are thus celebrated as
life givers. At the same time they play a crucial role in the final defeat of
the landowners and the Kuomintang armed forces by moving in at the right moment
to prevent the flight of the main landowner who is accused of exploiting people
and putting them in slavery.
The second interest is quite
different since it is the main orientation of the Communist Party at the time. It
is the simple division of the world, of society between landowners on one hand
and peasants and workers on the other. A volunteer who wants to join the
revolutionary army and a person who wants to join the Communist Party had to
fulfill one condition first and foremost: they could not be in any way the
owner of some land. Landowners are thus treated as a social class, as the
antagonistic social class of the working class, both peasants and workers.
This explains the total
nationalization of land in China.
Note that is the Soviet model but China pushed it as far as stating that the
land is the property of the people, hence of the state whereas the Soviet model
considered the land to be the property of the Kolkhoz, the cooperative body of farm
workers who took control of the land in a village or a district. They also had
Sovkhozes in which the land was the property of the Soviet state, but these
were only a small minority of farming units. The cooperative model was extended
to all communist countries except Poland. In China they went
slightly farther since the land was by definition the collective property of
the people and hence controlled by the state.
This led to some extreme
practices. During the Cultural Revolution all those who were considered as
deviant were sent to some detention terms in distant rural communities to be
reeducated by working in the fields as plain farm workers. Intellectuals were the
privileged target of this practice. These reeducation prisons or centers have
just been closed in China.
This led to the extreme practice of the Red Khmers in Cambodia and to
the deportation of all urban inhabitants to the countryside and at the same
time to the tremendous genocidal killing of millions of people.
In China this state control of
the land that has no private owner has been reformed by introducing at first
individual permits to individual people for them to till a certain section of
land and the accompanying right to be able to choose the crops they wanted to grow
and to sell their crops in a way or another to their own profit. At first these
permits could not be given or sold: they were absolutely attached to one
person, and his family. The authorities recently changed the system and
authorized the possibility to sell these permits other people who already had
one such permit to enable, among other things, people to move to the cities and
to industrial, administrative and commercial activities, and to permit the development
of bigger farm units to promote mechanization and hence increase productivity
and boost the production itself. The new problem is that some people working on
these bigger units will necessarily be farm workers working for a farm owner, a
person who owns the farm producing unit but does not own the land on which his
farm unit works.
Modern China is thus the result of these
old fights and struggles against landowners who were real tyrants and practiced
slavery, or at least feudalism by reducing farm workers to the status of serfs.
The ballet derived from this
historical episode will be made world famous because Nixon will go to one
performance when he visited China
and John Adams made it a central episode of his opera “Nixon in China.”
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU