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Revolutionary Model Plays Become School Teaching Materials

Sometimes Chinese culture is easily distinguished from Chinese Communist Party culture. Yet the Cultural Revolution that took place from 1966-1976 may be foreign to the younger generation, that is, to those born after the 80’s. Those who experienced the Cultural Revolution still remember how traditional Chinese culture was labeled as feudalism and superstition and was destroyed. One of the most famous developments from the Cultural Revolution was the “revolution model play,” a show devised specifically to propagate the party’s political agenda. In February 2008, the Chinese Ministry of Education sent out a notice that the “Peking opera will be taught in elementary and middle schools.” 10 of the 15 programs mandated by the ministry were actually “revolutionary model plays.” Clearly the Chinese Communist Party wants the next generation to remember, and even frequently recite, “class struggle” and the “communist revolution.” Below is the translation of a commentary and the notice from the Ministry of Education.

With the Exception of “The White-Haired Girl,” All of the First Group of Model Plays Is Included in the Teaching Materials [1].

On November 28, 1966, the central Cultural Revolution Leading Group held a Proletariat Cultural Revolution Congress for Literature and the Arts in Beijing. Leader Kang Sheng of the central Great Cultural Revolution Leading Group announced that the following Peking operas, “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” “The Red Lantern,” “Harbor,” “Sha Jia Bang,” “The Surprise Attack White Tiger Group,” and the ballets, “The White-Haired Girl,” “The Red Detachment of Women,” as well as the music of “Sha Jia Bang” were all “revolution model plays.”

The authorities showcased the “revolution model plays” from May 9 to Jun 15, 1967, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s speech during the “Yenan seminar on literature and arts.” The performance lasted 37 days with 330,000 audience members attending the 218 shows. Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai and the central Great Cultural Revolution group members also watched parts of the show. People’s Daily wrote, “The eight revolution model plays prominently propagandized the brilliance of Mao Zedong’s thoughts, and prominently eulogized the workers, peasants and soldiers. This joint performance is a major event in the revolution of the arts. It has greatly uplifted the proletariat spirit and greatly extinguished bourgeoisie power and prestige… It has established a glorious model for the proletariat revolution’s literary arts.”
Recently the Ministry of Education office sent out a “Notice on Launching Peking Opera into Elementary and Middle School Classrooms,” requiring the teaching of Peking opera in the music curriculum. The Ministry of Education has revised the “Compulsory Education Music Curriculum Standards” to include the related Peking opera teaching materials, and has chosen 15 Peking operas for elementary and middle schools music classes. Surprisingly all of the “revolution model plays” except “White-Haired Girl” were included in the teaching materials. The selected pieces even include “Harbor,” which promotes class struggle and continuing revolution.


The Administration of the Ministry of Education’s Notice On Teaching Peking Opera to Elementary and Middle Schools [2]


To the provincial and municipal education departments of Beijing, Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hubei, Guangdong, Gansu (Education Committee):

In order to implement the party spirit proposed during the 17th party congress, inherit the Chinese nation’s outstanding culture, and construct the spiritual realms of the Chinese nation, our unit has decided to bring Peking opera into the nine years of compulsory education music curriculum. 15 Peking operas’ classical arias have been added to the revised “Compulsory Education Music Curriculum Standard” to be taught to the students during the 9 years of education. Editing the teaching materials and the production of CDs have already started.

From March 2008 to July 2009, we will experiment with teaching Peking opera to elementary and middle schools in Beijing, Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hubei, Guangdong, and Gansu before gradually extending to the entire nation.

Each province (city) will select 20 schools (10 elementary schools and 10 middle schools) for the experiment. We suggest selecting schools in central city areas that have good foundations.

The education department for each site should treat the teaching of Peking operas as a priority. At the same time, each site should maximize the role of professionals in the training of teachers.
Each site must have model guidance, establish school teaching and research systems, and encourage the general music teachers to enhance their grasp of Peking opera teaching and ability through various means.

In order to help the experimental site to train the teachers and raise the standards of Peking opera in elementary and middle schools, our unit will organize training for teachers in March 2008.

The educational administration departments of the test sites must earnestly summarize their experiences and solve the problems they encounter to help teach the whole nation.

In order to facilitate work in the test site, we ask that each test site earnestly fill in information on their schools (see Appendix 1) and submit it to our unit before February 29.

The Ministry of Education

February 2, 2008

cc: The People’s Education Publishing House and the National Peking Opera Theater

[1] new century website, on February 27, 2008
[2] Chinese Ministry of Education, on February 2, 2008