cultural purges


cultural purges
A purge often takes place as part of a ‘rectification’ (zhengdun), a means for the Party mechanism to right itself by wronging its members or individuals outside its ranks. In the past, cultural purges were often a weathervane for larger political ructions. The denunciation of a film or play in the press could be the prelude to a larger political campaign (the press attacks on Sun Yu’s 1951 film A Life of Wu Xun, for example, accompanied the elimination of bourgeois ideology and its supposed champions in the educational realm). Anti-Party messages were often detected in the most obscure works, and often the most asinine reasons were given for denunciations and bans; but the effects on individuals and the culture as a whole could prove devastating.
As the sanctions against writers and artists who had erred became more cosmetic, and the effects of cultural purges less long-lived following the 1970s, canny creators began to exploit the potential of being attacked in the Party. By the late 1980s, an official ban in the mainland could lead to lucrative sales in Hong Kong, Taiwan and further afield.
By the 1990s, rock artists, painters and some writers and filmmakers positively thrived on official opprobrium. Meanwhile, within the Party’s culture attacking negative social and cultural trends could still bolster bureaucratic careers and be used as an excuse to pad the budgets of propaganda organizations. The Party-state mechanisms for launching cultural purges or denunciation campaigns (from the late 1990s these were often patriotic education campaigns) were not dismantled, and they could function with impressive gusto when the need arose.
Following 4 June 1989, a series of cultural purges aimed at the supposed intellectual and culture progenitors of the political turmoil were launched. The writers who had worked on River Elegy, the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, the journalists Liu Binyan, Wang Ruowang and Dai Qing, and the literary critic Liu Xiaobo, among others (a list originally compiled by the rogue conservative writer He Xin), were vilified in the mass media, and edited collections of their poisonous writings were produced to illustrate the official attacks. These crude, Maoist-style media criticisms did more to extol rather than extirpate the heinous influence of these individuals. Eventually, younger, more media-savvy apparatchiks would eschew such methods; instead, they dressed up positive Party messages in the language of commercial advertising and the hard sell.
The purge, either individual or collective, can still be initiated by the remarks of a political leader, the tenor of a Party meeting, or as the result of some external stimulus (international notoriety, factional jealousy, as part a diversionary tactic used by politicians, or out of sheer bureaucratic bloody-mindedness). While many cultural figures can make a comeback from a cultural putsch, or may re-launch flagging careers as a result of one, those purged for political reasons, in particular for political or religious dissent, more often than not languish in exile or suffer interment for many years.
GEREMIE R.BARMÉ

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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