revivals and other ‘re-’ words


revivals and other ‘re-’ words
The Cultural Revolution era (early 1960s to late 1970s) began with a promise of renewal, a reanimation of the revolutionary impetus, and opposition to revisionism, that is backsliding in all its manifestations, whether it be political, cultural or social, that would lead to a restoration of bourgeois society and the power of capital. To create a truly new world the old had to be smashed and repudiated. However, during this haphazard process, apart from the destruction of human life and much of the material heritage of the nation, the old order proved to be recalcitrant.
The post-Mao era was ushered in with a wave of rehabilitations and revivals. Long-forgotten cultural figures and artistic works made a fitful and then a clamorous return to the scene. Books, films, art works, people, historical incidents and eventually entire eras were regurgitated by the memory hole that had been created by the denunciations and cultural purges not only during the Cultural Revolution era, but in the years following the founding of the People’s Republic itself. Along with this resurrection and rectification of the past, quotidian life was also regenerated. Chinese cuisine in particular, long impoverished by policy-induced shortages and dour revolutionary sobriety, has once more become the gourmand’s redoubt.
Much of the cultural resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s was fed by the wellsprings of socialist culture, as well as the cultures of the Republican era (1911–49) and before. Along with these revivals, old debates were rehearsed as a younger generation vied for cultural authority and a niche in the booming marketplace. The reviviscence of the past also allowed for the flourishing of retro fashions, and old-new styles in clothing, writing and art quoted freely from the past while adding their own contemporary inflections. The 1990s was not only a decade of resuscitation in China, for elements of renascence touched countries throughout the former socialist bloc of Europe, and the motherland of revolution itself, the Soviet Union/Russia. As the millennium approached, Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin went so far as to hail in one of his crudely written classical Chinese poems the Deng-Jiang era as being one of ‘restoration’ or zhongxing. He employed an expression dating from imperial times that signified an attempt by court officials to revive the flagging fortunes of an endangered dynasty. While many aspects of traditional social practice remained outlawed, other things that could serve a utilitarian function were sanctioned, including the revival of veneration for state C onfucianism.
China is a place where the change of dynasties or the ascension of new rulers often allows for unexpected comebacks and rehabilitations, and the present age is no different. No one can predict what the future will bring, although amidst the shock of the new there will always be a place for the reassuring familiarity of the old.
GEREMIE R.BARMÉ

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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