China Bans Online Parodies of ‘Red Classics,’ Revolutionary Heroes

2018-02-05
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A Chinese choir group parodies the revolutionary-themed Yellow River Cantata in an undated photo.
A Chinese choir group parodies the revolutionary-themed Yellow River Cantata in an undated photo.
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China’s culture ministry has launched a crackdown on the spoofing of its revolutionary culture and its heroes, ordering the deletion of thousands of online videos for parodying popular “red classics and heroes.”

The ministry said it has taken immediate action to investigate and remove spoof videos from online sites following recent media attention given to the spoofing of the communist-era choral classic Yellow River Cantata.

In one spoof video available via Hong Kong’s Cable TV News channel, a choir of angelic children sing the cantata wearing panda hats, while the conductor wears panda paws.

The choir sing out “We are crying out for our year-end bonuses!” instead of a stirring description of the Yellow River’s roar and the howling wind as a symbol of Chinese resistance. “The wife needs a new handbag and I have to put my kid down for a good school!” they lament.

In another, the conductor and other performers make exaggerated, jerky movements in an apparent parody of the highly stylized depictions of revolutionary martyrs and heroes favored by Mao-era performers, while a long piece of cloth labeled “The Yellow River” is flapped up and down in front of the singers to imitate water.

Much displeased, the culture ministry has called on government departments and internet service providers to crack down on such spoofs, and encourage respect for China’s revolutionary history and culture.

“Internet and cultural agencies are required to conscientiously push back against spoof versions of revolutionary classics and heroes to ensure the dissemination of advanced socialist culture,” the ministry said in a statement on its official website.

Thousands of videos removed

At the end of January, culture ministry officials hauled in 17 major service providers including Youku Tudou, Tencent, Iqiyi, Baidu, and Sina to "rectify their work," the statement said.

As of Jan. 30, service providers had removed 3,898 offending videos of “pranksters” spoofing revolutionary songs, it said.

The ministry said it would revise its guidelines to internet service providers to require them to “take seriously classic revolutionary themes and cultural works, respect history, respect the classics and praise their heroes.”

“The Yellow River Cantata, written in 1939 during the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945), depicts the heroic spirit of the Chinese people during the war,” state news agency Xinhua said in its report on the crackdown.

Online activist Wu Bin, known by his internet nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said the ruling Chinese Communist Party requires that only its own version of history is respected.

“Many people see these so-called heroes and martyrs and historical figures differently, but their version of history shouldn’t be regarded as the only version, just on account of their power,” Wu said.

“They don’t want people to say anything or to do anything. This isn’t based on the law; it’s based on coercion, so it can’t be relied on,” he said. “It smacks of the absurdity of a society based on the rule of officials.”

'Thought control'

Hong Kong political commentator Cai Yongmei said the government's move is part of a much broader range of measures being rolled out under President Xi Jinping, harking back to the ideological controls of the Mao-era Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

“Lately, Xi Jinping has enforced a whole series of measures, the most serious since the Cultural Revolution,” Cai said. “An example is the ban on spoofs of the Yellow River Cantata. I hardly think those people are engaged in a serious challenge to Communist Party culture.”

“They think this ideology is a bit dull, and they think it’s a bit of fun [to parody it],” Cai said. “But things are regressing now to the point where nobody is allowed to doubt any of the Communist Party’s previous ideology, nor its distorted view of history.”

“We are back to the thought control of the Mao era.”

China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), is currently considering criminalizing anyone deemed to have smeared the “reputation and honor” of the ruling party’s canon of heroes and martyrs, official media reported last December.

“Departments including public security, culture, press and cyberspace have a responsibility to protect the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs in their supervision,” state news agency Xinhua quoted the text of a new draft law as saying.

If passed, the new law would also ban the “illicit appropriation” of land and facilities near memorials of heroes and martyrs, as well as any damage to such memorials, Xinhua said.

"Those who appropriate, damage or contaminate memorials, and insult or slander heroes and martyrs, may receive administrative penalties from public security or even criminal sanctions," it quoted the draft law as saying.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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