Material Nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution Era: The Affective Practices of Revolutionary Music in Contemporary China

Shelley Zhang, Graduate Student, Department of Music, University of Pennsylvania
| CSCC Conference Room, Fisher-Bennett 345

In this project, I investigate the re-popularization of material culture and music from the Cultural Revolution in contemporary China. Specifically, I explore how my interlocutors from the Hunan province celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival in 2016 by visiting a former landlord’s property and affectively performing music from China’s Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was a sociopolitical movement that harshly disrupted the cultural, political, economic, and social life in the People’s Republic of China. Controlled by Chairman Mao Zedong, the Revolution removed his political rivals, punished land owners, and strictly controlled musical production. Despite the drastic conditions of those days, many Chinese today are re-engaging with and even fetishizing material culture from that period. For instance, my interlocutors spent the Dragon Boat Festival, one of the PRC’s few national holidays, visiting a former landlord’s property that has since been transformed into a modest museum and tourist site. Its attraction relies heavily on its ownership of Cultural Revolution relics, such as Mao Zedong portraits, Mao-themed dishware, and a stone flour mill, which tourists are welcome to use. As some of my interlocutors relived memories from the Cultural Revolution, they began performing Revolutionary music. Drawing from Svetlana Boym’s seminal text, The Future of Nostalgia (2001), I investigate how material culture and music from the Cultural Revolution impact contemporary China’s notions of nationhood, cultural transformation, and futurity. I argue that many individuals articulate their nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution era through affective consumer practices and the re-popularization of Revolutionary music.