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Chinese Sociology & Anthropology

ISSN: 0009-4625 (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/mcsa19

Beware of So-Called Popular Culture

Cheng Zhi'Ang

To cite this article: Cheng Zhi'Ang (1999) Beware of So-Called Popular Culture, Chinese
Sociology & Anthropology, 31:4, 42-57

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.2753/CSA0009-4625310442

Published online: 20 Dec 2014.

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Download by: [Thammasat University Libraries] Date: 10 December 2017, At: 02:58
Chinese Sociology and Anthropology, vol. 31, no. 4, Summer 1999, pp. 42--57.
0 1999 M. E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved.
0009-4625 I 1999 $9.50 + 0.00.

CHENG ZHIANG

Beware of So-called Popular


Culture
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After the smashing of the fetters of cultural autocracy imposed by


the Gang of Four, a scene of unprecedented flourishing has emerged
in culture and art. Popular culture has been very active, especially
since the mid-1980s. Incomplete statistics indicate that China today
has more than 200,000 song-and-dance halls, more than 60,000
video theaters, more than 100,000 kiosks and stalls for books and
publications, and nearly 4,000 cinema houses and drama theaters;
further, 80 percent of Chinas inhabitants have televisions. Truly,
times have changed and are most encourdging. But this is exactly
where the problem lies: What kind of culture is being transmitted by
these cultural institutions, by these media of transmission? There is
no denying, for sure, that much of it is mainstream and classical
culture and that there is some true popular culture. But the overall
situation is quite confused and does not inspire optimism. Owing to
the ambiguity of the term popular culture, Marxist researchers
should strictly differentiate between the pop culture of bourgeois
society (which is popular according to its form or relatively popular
nature, popular by quantitative measurement, but anti-popular in its
ideological content). But many researchers and practical workers
in this country have made no strict distinction between genuine
Translation 0 1999 M. E. Sharpe, Inc., from the Chinese text. Cheng Zhiang,
Jingti suoweide daihong wenhua, Zhongliu yuekan (Midstream monthly),
no. 6 (June 1996): 54-58.
42
SUMMER 1999 43

popular culture and so-called pop culture, and therefore frequently


fall into errors both in theory and practice-manifestations of which
are that some people blindly promote the development of so-called
pop culture, whereas others blindly reject genuine popular culture.
Let us deal with the first error: blindly developing pop culture.
One of its manifestations is the resurgence of the cultural dregs of
feudalism. Leaving aside such things as building temples, erecting
tombs, practicing divination, and physiognomy fortune-telling, its
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main manifestations in aesthetic culture are the royalty (di wung


houfei) fad and the kungfu-outlaw (wu xiu) fad. The last emperor
abdicated almost a hundred years ago, but the specters of feudal
emperors and kings are still haunting our lands. Emperors of all
eras, and especially the emperors of the declining Qing dynasty,
appear in droves on cinema and TV. In line with the new histori-
cal viewpoint, most are whitewashed and lauded. Serious historical
drama is considered too straightlaced and uppity and as lacking
in entertainment value, and so stories are made up, and if these
stories are not sufficient, sequels are added. It is said that storytel-
ling constitutes the attitude and viewpoint of the man in the street,
that it embodies the transcendental feelings of a free mentality and
projects peoples ideals with regard to interpersonal relationships.
Thus Qianlong becomes an emperor who loves his people like his
own children and an incarnation of justice who eliminates tyrants to
protect the people. His relations with his eunuchs and underlings is
so close and intimate that he might very well be held up as a model
of democratic conduct.
But the true facts of history are these: His six tips to South
China, called incomparably grand ceremonies, brought heavy dis-
asters to the people. Every t i p Qianlong went out on called for the
use of five thousand to six thousands horses, seven or eight hundred
camels, four hundred or more chariots, and more than four hundred
boats that local officials along the way had to furnish. Wherever this
grand retinue went, it would occupy four hundred or five hundred
civilian residences. These southern inspections were extravagant
and wasteful in the extreme. Seventy-five milch cows and more than
a thousand sheep for the royal kitchen were sent expressly fiom the
44 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

capital to Suqian and Zhenjiang in anticipation of the retinues arri-


val. But these circumstances are covered up in the storytelling,
and all one sees is a dashing, adorable, and romantic Son of Heaven.
No wonder young girls cry out in their dreams: Qianlong, I love
you! Even worse, in one episode of the series, a religious leader of
a minority nationality in the Southwest is depicted as a secessionist
who maintains treasonous relations with a foreign power. This
would be absolutely impermissible in any serious historical film. As
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Comrade Jiang Zemin has said: There is no minor matter when it


comes to nationality and religious issues. But because this is story-
telling, any drivel will do. Strangely enough, this thing has actually
been lauded and held up as an example in newspapers and publica-
tions at the central level; an organization at the central level even
wanted to award it with a best film award. As for the kungfu-
outlaw (du xiu) type, I already pointed out ten years ago that
kungfu-outlaw literature was a sort of fantasizing by the urban
petty bourgeoisie who were unable to help themselves and has no
real significance; today, martial arts are only a way of keeping fit,
and there is no need to exaggerate their social function.*
Who would have imagined that matters would be taken to such an
extent today! The writer of kungfu-outlaw books Cha Liangyong
was recently invited to become an honorary professor by Beijing
University and has been elevated into a masterpiece collection by
some hippie selector. Truly, no greater honor and glory could
have been lavished on him. It is true that Jin Yong is a relatively
serious writer of kungfu-outlaw fiction, and that he cleverly psy-
chologizes his characters, so that these ancients with their superb
martial skills appear to be lost in thought before the boundless
land^."^ But they are, at the most, lost in thought, for the subject
matter of kungfu-outlaws is in itself fantastic and absurd, and is not
serious. So one might say that he employs a serious attitude to create
nonserious literature. People are often given to commenting:
Kungfu-outlaw fiction has existed since ancient times, and the short
stories of the Tang dynasty Red Thread and Shady Lady Nie are
regarded as gems of literature, are they not? Actually Red Thread
and other such stories may reflect some of the circumstances of the
SUMMER I W Y 4.7

Pan Zhen separatist regime during the Tang dynasty, but as far as
their ideological and aesthetic significance is concerned, they art: a
far cry from the earlier short stories and cannot be counted as gems
of literature. The problem lies in the fact that subject mancr of [his
type has long since lost any real significance, and writing or reading
such adult fairy tales in the twentieth century is like continuing to
write or read knight-errantry literature after Cervantes-both are
ridiculous as well as anachronistic. Moreover, the allegiance to sov-
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ereigns, loyalty among outlaws, and the fantastic, superstitious. vio-


lent, and erotic contents of the kungfu-outlaw stories cannot but
exert an evil influence on their readers. Researchers report that this
influence has instilled misplaced views of heroism and friendship
among some young people and adolescents, who consequently form
gangs, engage in violence, and take to the road of crime. Perhaps
we, too, need a Cervantes to write a Chinese Don Quixote and
make a clean sweep of those foul, ignorant, and boorish sword-
wielding outlaws. Most of these dregs of feudalism come from Tai-
wan, which has not undergone the baptism of a democratic
revolution and was, in the first place, enshrouded in the poisonous
mists of feudalism. Added to this is the fact that from the mid-1960s
on, Chiang Kai-shek in the cultural aspect replaced his slogans
about militant literature and art with a vigorous campaign to pro-
mote feudal ethics, in an effort to dispel the social contradictions on
the island and benumb our fighting will.
At the National Armed Forces First Conference on Literature
and Art held in April 1965, Chiang Kai-shek promulgated twelve
spiritual directives, which included one on promoting the na-
tions spirit of benevolence and love. At the First Nationwide
Talks on Literature and Art in May 1968, Chiang Kai-shek once
more emphasized in his instructions that benevolence should be
employed to launch a new literature and art movement under the
Three Peoples Principles. And the Central Symposium on Litera-
ture and Art, convened in February 1971, established three guide-
lines, among which was taking ethics and morals as the central
ideology and national style as the mode of expression and carry-
ing forward the spirit of benevolence-the acme of Chinese cul-
46 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

ture.4 Under the influence of Chiang Kai-sheks cultural strategy,


such anticommunist slogans as counterattack and revenge and
kill all the communist bandits gradually became more infrequent
and were replaced by a countenance of gentility, kindness, honesty,
and sincerity. Chiang Ching-kuo inherited this strategy, and in
1978 specially proposed four guidelines for Taiwanese television,
the first of which was to carry forward the traditions of Chinese
culture and promote loyalty, filial piety, benevolence, and love.5
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And so the products of Taiwan television that we see today are


replete with propaganda about feudal ethics, praises for loyal ser-
vants, eulogies of filial sons, and encomiums of pure and self-sacri-
ficing women who live but for one man and remain virtuous to the
end, or of officials and aristocrats who are broad of spirit and show
solicitude for people under them-an evil gust of decadence and
hypocrisy that makes one want to vomit. Yet their fundamental
objective of opposing communism and restoring the nation has
hardly changed, if it has even changed at all. But some of our own
comrades discover in this the traditional virtues of the Chinese
nation, and they believe they have found a common language. Are
they dreaming?
The second manifestation is the resurgence of colonialist culture.
Since World War I1 imperialism has consistently waged a cultural
cold war against the socialist countries, and has recently shifted its
strategic focus eastward and greatly intensified its attacks against
China. Owing to the emergence of satellite TV, the war of electronic
waves waged by the West has entered a new stage. If the deploy-
ment of Western radio and TV transmitting bases formed only a
crescentlike encirclement in the countries along our southeastern
perimeter in the 1950s and 1960s, today that encirclement has fi-
nally been closed. A spokesman of the British Broadcasting Corpo-
ration has announced that it intends to intensify the omni-
directional spiritual and ideological invasive war against Commu-
nist China, and that they are in the course of carrying out this
grandiose plan for spiritual invasion. The harm caused to us by
bourgeois ideology, the bourgeois way of life, and the reactionary
views they s p r e a c i f these were allowed to flood in without any
SUMMER 1999 47

hindrance-is self-evident. But, strangely enough, even in the pres-


ence of such an encirclement, some people in our media not only
remain unperturbed and take no precautions but actually voluntarily
spend large amounts of money to purchase TV films from abroad
that are imbued with an intense colonialist spirit to broadcast to
Chinese audiences, and have no qualms about serving imperialism
as voluntary propagandists. The two animated films used as exam-
ples here4ilms that have had a great influence on our childre-
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suffice to prove that my statements are not groundless slander. One


is the Japanese animated film Holy Warriors; its contents may be
described as a phantasmic holy war to conquer the world. It tells
the following story:
A Japanese tycoon in Greece rescues a baby girl-the incarnation
of Athen-nd makes her his successor (hinting that the orthodoxy
of Western civilization has already shifted to Japan). He trains for
her a band of warriors who conduct the holy war and liberate
Athens (the wresting of world supremacy). In view of the lessons of
history, the authors and producers were aware that the Chinese and
Russian people are not to be scorned with impunity, and so they
adopted a strategy of immediate alliance and eventual attack,
dragging in Chinese and Russian warriors as helpers in their con-
quest of the world. This is precisely the dream long cherished by
Japanese militarists, is it not?
The second example is the American animated film Commandos,
which may be described as U.S. imperialisms self-portrait as an
international gendarme. A band of American soldiers ride rough-
shod all over the world as though they were the saviors of mankind,
yet nothing is said about who gives them the right to do so. Their
opponents in the films are described as warmongers and ambitious
schemers to prove that the United States is the defender of peace,
but this, in reality, is no more than a device to disguise their true
hegemonist features.
Still another example is this: on the 150th anniversary of the
Opium War, a TV station broadcast Five Weeks in a Balloon, a
TV play that prettifies British imperialisms invasion of Africa. At
the time, I wrote an article in the Education Daily criticizing this
48 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

incident, and I will not repeat here the points raised in that article.
Regretfully, the person or persons who decided the matter paid ab-
solutely no heed to this article and even arranged to have the film
shown again on the evening of October 1, when the Chinese Peo-
ples Republic was celebrating the forty-fifth anniversary of its
founding! And this was precisely at a time when British imperialism
was obstinately causing trouble on the Hong Kong issue and when
the temperature of Sino-British relations was nearing zero degrees.
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What was the intention of these comrades? This item in the program
was replaced at the last moment only after serious objections were
voiced.
The plots of other works are more complex, and their subject
matter is better camouflaged, as, for example, the widely acclaimed
Japanese TV serial Ah Xin.The story is about the life of the heroine;
it affects people in many different ways and is not lacking in saving
graces. But in spite of the many twists and turns of this TV plays
story line, in the final analysis what it tells the viewer is this: In a
capitalist society, anyone can become a rich man or woman if he or
she is industrious and works hard. Moreover, many viewers missed
this point: At the end of the show, Ah Xin meets again with her
former boyfriend, who has now turned his back on the radical social
ideals he once cherished and has become a staid capitalist. The story
of these two people is a metaphor: Liberation, struggle, and so forth,
are all empty words; only amassing wealth is serious business-this
is the inner core or bottom line of this piece of work.
Appearing on the electronic waves are not only TV plays but also
musical air taids from the West: MTV. An American professor
characterized such programs as holding the lens on female bodies
and said that watching these videos fosters the desire to rape.
Some producers in our country have caught on to this and have
immediately followed suit. A music video, made on the basis of a
song called Little Fragrance about a young country girl, shows
instead a city girl in a three spot bikini and with hair covering her
shoulders, posturing coyly and affectedly. The camera follows her
avidly from feet to legs, navel, and breasts . . . repeatedly displaying
every part of the female body. The same goes for The Pounding of
SUMMER 1999 49

the Breakers Remains Unchanged.6 Even the film Judge Bao has
not been pa red.^ Apparently all have learned this trick of the trade.
Then there is karaoke, which has now become a medium in the
service of sex. Even the completion of that mammoth project
Treasury of Chinese Karaoke Melodies seems to have done little
to rescue its sinking reputation. On April 8, 1994, Han Suyin, at the
Chinese embassy in Berne, commented: Some (Chinese) young
people maintain that karaoke = vogue = progress = modernization.
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No. Karaoke isnt modernization. Modernization can only be


brought about by hard work! There is no karaoke in Switzerland,
and in Florence, Italy, it has simply been banned. According to
reports, karaoke has also lost popularity in Japan, its land of origin.
But here in China, some people cannot seem to get enough of it.
Because there is practically no language barrier between main-
land China and Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the latter are deeply
influenced by Europe and America, it is not at all strange that all
mainlanders who worship things foreign dote on Hong Kong and
Taiwanese culture. Chinas cinema and TV screens have been taken
over by Hong Kong and Taiwan films in the last few years, and the
audio-visual market is also dominated by Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Statistics show that of the 1,429 boxes of videotapes purchased by
the Jinhua District Video Distribution Station, only 27 were made in
China; of the 1,295 boxes of videotapes bought by the Huzhou
Video Distribution Station, only 5 percent were Chinese-made; and
Hong Kong and Taiwanese films actually comprised 100 percent of
267 videotapes shown by the Shangcheng Childrens Palace in
Hangzhou in the first quarter of 1993! Hong Kong and Taiwan star
singers flocked northward in 1993 and occupied the mainlands
world of song. Some people exclaimed with feeling: If pop songs
are the homestead of young people, then Hong Kong and Taiwan
songs are the most luxuriant homesteads of homesteads.s For
many years some people schemed to have Deng Lijun perform on
the mainland, and when this songstress cum spy died, some top
personages in music circles actually sent messages of condolences
to show their respect for her, so deep was her baneful influence! The
composition of Hong Kong and Taiwanese culture, of course, com-
50 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

prises mutually conflicting elements, and some of it is progressive,


healthy culture. In Taiwan, for instance, there is the fiction of social
realism represented by Chen Y ingzhen and the patriotic political
essays represented by Yan Yuanshu; in Hong Kong, one not only
finds serious, high-grade culture, but in its popular culture there are
good works such as My Chinese Heart. But what has taken the
interior regions by storm in the last few years is not such good
works, but the sort of vulgar culture that fits in with the needs of
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Hong Kongs and Taiwans rulers-their so-called pop culture.


First take Hong Kong: to maintain their colonial rule, the Hong
Kong British authorities do not let the people of Hong Kong reflect
on history or show concern for politics. It is therefore quite impossi-
ble to develop any high-grade culture that concerns itself with the
pursuits and ideals of life, or any genuine culture of the people.
Only the so-called pop culture gains wide prevalence. I hope people
who are enamored of Hong Kong culture will see how people in
Hong Kong evaluate their own culture. An article by a Hong Kong
personage, carried in abridged form in the Bianyi cankao (edited
and translated reference materials), goes like this:
Hong Kong culture at the end of the century is sliding into vulgarity.
Two cultures are currently prevalent, i.e., elite culture and street
culture, which can also be called smallcitizen (xiao shi min) cul-
ture. . . . The rise of antisocial and antimoral small-citizen culture
has brought radical changes to Hong Kongs original social values
(includmg its moral concepts). Money worship and utilitarianism are
rampant. Mounting-the-dragon [achieving success-Trans.] de-
vices that violate moral norm5 have also become acceptable in the
interests of gaining money or notoriety. . . . A typical example is the
fact that a number of young female stars are currently taking the
one-strip-to-fame shortcut. Drug lords, the underworlds Rig
Brothers, and the gambling kings who amass wealth by operating
casinos, have, in the limelight given them by the popular media,
turned around to become great heroes and idols, admired and adu-
lated by the small citizen!

Compare this description with the state of affairs around us to-


day! Money worship and utilitarianism are becoming increasingly
SUMMER 1999 51

rampant, are they not? Such publications as The Art of Bootlicking


have become enormously popular, have they not? Daily the media
gives publicity to drug lords, Big Brothers, and gambling kings, do
they not? In spite of efforts to sweep out yellow homographic-
Trans.] culture every year, the more the sweeping, the yellower
things get, is that not so? This pop culture and the colonial-type
pop culture of Hong Kong are daily moving toward homogeneity;
in other words, our pop culture is gradually becoming colonial-
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ized, is that not so? We have discussed earlier in this paper the
feudal nature of Taiwanese culture. Actually Taiwanese culture is
also a sort of colonial culture. We hope those people who admire
Taiwanese culture will read this passage written by a Taiwanese
scholar:

After the Opium War in China, a flood tide of Westernization, spear-


headed by strong ships and powerful guns, raged into our lands,
and this tide of Westernization has surged even higher after the
founding of the Nationalist Republic, jeopardizing still further the
culture of our country and putting it through one crisis after another.
If we were to stand on the street today, what we would see are
innumerable patinas of colonial culture, such as the patina of colo-
nial music and that of colonial comics-Japanese comics filled
with sex and violence-whch for years have dominated the coun-
trys (note: meaning Taiwans) comic markets and turned chldrens
favorite reading material into noxious substances.

Now let us view the streets in mainland China. There we also find
a good deal of the patina of colonial culture. All kinds of Japanese
and Western noxious substances are poisoning our children; disco
and rock n roll deafen our ears; the autobiography of Michael Jack-
son, the king of rock n roll, has been printed in three or four
translated versions; and that obscene and foul-smelling autobiogra-
phy entitled Sex by the rock n roll star Madonna, who has been
called the most shameless hussy of the century, has also been
published. Huge photographs of Madonna and of the sex-star Mar-
ilyn Monroe hang in the bedrooms of practically all vogue-con-
scious young people. Strangely enough, Marilyn Monroe has been
52 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

recommended as a paragon of life by a major newspaper at the


central level, and its weird article reads more or less as follows:
Monroes attitude toward life is consistent in both her public per-
formances and her private life; this is the best attitude toward life.
We all know that Monroe was a sex star on the screen and a disso-
lute woman in real life. Recommending this weird consistency
shows that the gaudy and grotesque patina of colonial culture has
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already bedazzled some people among us. The importing of foreign


garbage has created environmental pollution, so, too, doesnt the
importing of cultural garbage create an even more dangerous pollu-
tion of the spirit? A scholar has pointed out that Chinas language is
going the way of self subcolonialization, meaning that the Chi-
nese people are discarding pure and correct Han language and learn-
ing a sort of specious language from the colonial residents of Hong
Kong who are hardly familiar with their own mother tongue. Actu-
ally, this goes not only for language; Chinas culture is in many
respects imitating that of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is becoming
increasingly colonialized.
One phenomenon in this spectacle of cultural colonialization or
subcolonialization deserves special attention, and that is the so-
called Zhang Yimou phenomenon in cinema culture. As pointed out
by commentators, from the cultural aspect the Zhang Yimou phe-
nomenon is the manifestation of a postcolonial fringe mentality
that panders to Western linguistic hegemony. Rather than say that
Zhang Yimou has any understanding of the Chinese national charac-
ter, it would be closer to the truth to say that he has a deeper
comprehension of the mentality of imperialist cultural hegemony,
which is why he is able to cater to its fancies and gain one success
after another. Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and their ilk make use of
the textual form of pop culture--cinema-to offer the barbarous
and ugly aspects of our nations former-day habits and customs t o
the West so as to gratify the hegemonistic the-West-is-the-center
mentality and to seek postcolonialistic rewards.
The third manifestation is the turbulent upsurge of philistinism.
Egoism, money worship, and hedonism all come under the general
heading of philistinism. China currently permits the existence of a
SUMMER 1999 53

non-state-owned economy Vei gong you jing ji],and it is only


natural that the development of this economy gives rise to a corre-
sponding nonsocialist culture. There is a temporary rationality to the
existence of the nonstate-owned economy, but it also produces
negative effects. The operators of the private, joint-venture, and
foreign-capital economies, and especially the upstarts who become
wealthy before others, are the soil on which philistine culture ger-
minates and grows. Of course, not all those people who became rich
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before others are philistines, but there are a good many philistines
among them. The poet Gong Liu has pointed out:
Do a careful analysis, and it will not be hard to discover their basic
composition: setting aside the very small minority of high-tech pat-
ent holders, some of them are the scions of high-ranking cadres who
only know how to make colossal profits without capital investment
and how to feast, drink, whore, and gamble; the others basically
consist of able people and courageous elements from among the
peasantry and the lumpen proletariat.

Among the peasantry and the lumpen proletariat, a large pro-


portion have notorious records and records of previous convictions,
have very little education, and have a weak conception of legality.
The arrogance born of great wealth also causes a pernicious growth
of their cultural mentality, the basic features of which are profits-be-
fore-everything, cynicism, and enjoy-yourself-while-you-can. Many
of these people were riff-rafl to begin with, and once they became
rich and became fat cats, they were philistines. Philistinism has its
own poet-Wang Shuo.
The venerable Mr. Yu Zanbang has said with much feeling: A
strange phenomenon has emerged in the creation of TV plays in the
last two or three years-spieling (kan) and scoffing (shuan)
have become stylish in society after the emergence of the Wang
Shuo phenomenon. This method of (literary) creation is not only
being condoned, it has even been commended in certain newspapers
and publications and cited as a new fashion. Actually, the preva-
lence of spieling is not limited to the writing of TV plays nor does
the focal issue of the Wang Shuo phenomenon rest in his way of
54 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

spieling in literary creation, but rather in his propagation of a


philistine philosophy.
Many of the characters in Wang Shuos works are actually the
authors mouthpieces, but for the sake of accuracy and irrefutability.
we will only cite some passages from Wang Shuos own professions
to see exactly what they consist of. Wang Shuo says he uses in-
ebriation to mislead people and cover up my fault^."^ If so, what
kind of faults are covered up by his inebriation? He states
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frankly: I go completely nuts when confronted with money. I am a


fanatical worshiper of material things, and I find it very hard to
refuse anything that has to do with money. Having money, in my
opinion, is better than anything else and the more money a person
has to spend, the higher he holds his head.I0 My excursions into
doing business have given me this experience: I have cultivated in
myself the eye of a businessman. I know what will sell.11 An
author is like a prostitute, in that both engage in the business of
selling. Only the things they sell are different.2
Wang Shuos entire accumulation of knowledge consists of
thirty to fifty stammered song verses, seventy or eighty espionage
novels, and an undetermined number of amorous encounters.13
People find life difficult and tiring enough already, so why draw
them to greater depths and make it even more tiring for theni!14 He
writes TV plays simply to let ordinary people have fun dreaming
dreams. He says: The level I am interested in and am concerned
about is that of the prevalent life-style in which there is violence and
sex, and this sort of ridiculing and that sort of shamelessness, and I
bring them all And so there appears the theme chanted over
and over again in The Seahorse Nightclub: Why not make a game
of life? Wang Shuos chronic hero utters a protest that may
perhaps enunciate the words in the authors own heart: I behave
myself, so whom have I offended? Do I have to keep stiff and
present a holier-than-thou appearance to be seen as a good kid? Im
only being a bit vulgar, am I not?
Former Minister [of Culture-Trans.] Wang Meng, who was
once called the representative of elitist culture (jing yirtg weii
hua), seemed to have shown special concern for Wang Shuo, the
SIJMMER 1?9Y .5.5

representative of philistine culture, and in many ways shielded him.


He published one particular article in which he maintained that
Wang Shuos main characteristic was avoiding the noble. This
even triggered a small debate, as some people said it was not neces-
sary to avoid that, while others said it was only necessary to avoid
the spuriously noble. But in my opinion, Wang Shuo evades both
the spuriously noble and the genuinely noble. His specialty is to
scoff at things that are noble, put them before a distorting mirror.
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turn them into something comic and ridiculous, and make a joke of
them. In his heart of hearts he is hostile toward noble things, be it
communism (thats utopian stuff ) or love (thats blind).
More than one commentator has taken note of the recurring fa-
ther-and-son theme in Wang Shuos works, and has seen that Wang
Shuo waits for the death of the traditional father, believes that the
father should die and is already dead. Although there is a side to this
of negating ossified and outmoded conventions, there is also a side
that negates and throws out revolutionary traditions. In sum, it is as
Newman has said: There are no more fathers, either dead or
alive.16 Wang Shuo gives voice to the dreams of philistines who
are doing their best to take over the stage of history. And strangely
enough, the culture that represents the ideals of these philistines
not only grandly takes its place in books, newspapers, cinema, and
television but is also praised and rewarded. Disregarding vehement
criticism from various quarters (some of it from Marxists, some of it
from humanists), departments in charge have actually presented
the Collected Writings of Wang Shuo with the Golden Key award!
I fail to understand what young readers will be opening with this
golden key. A treasure chest? Or a Pandoras box? Will they be
releasing the wisdom of humanity, or the ferocity of beasts?
Various grounds have been advanced in defense of the afore-
mentioned colonialist, feudal, and philistine cultures-grounds such
as merging tracks with the world, going along with the tide,
the reader is God, and so on.
Many comrades have come forward to rebut these grounds, and
I was the first to put forward the thesis that 7he reader is not God
(1990, in this publication), which I will not expound here again. But
56 CHINESE SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

there are some specious comments that must be cleared up. Some
comrades say: Since literature should serve the people. why
should we reject pop culture? What Dickens wrote at the time
was popular fiction published in installments in newspapers, was
it not? And was Balzac also not a writer of best-sellers! They
also quote Mao Zedong, saying that he always instructed us to
turn our face toward the masses, and so forth. I have noticed that
a specialist doing research in German literature has, since the
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early 1980s, all along used such grounds to argue in defense of


pop songs, kungfu-outlaw novels, and other such things, and has
been cheering the victory of the common people in the cultural
realm. As though the common people had gained no victory
when they watched The White-Haired Girl or read Xiao Erlrei
Gets Married but had to wait until they saw Tiger Tang Sets
Fire to Autumn Fragrance before they could lay any claim to
victory. After reading such statements, I never know whether t o
laugh or cry, and I cannot help but remember Lu Xuns old say-
ing that specialists make many erroneous statements. This gen-
tleman may well have conducted special research in the field of
German literature, but his comments on the above-mentioned
subjects are quite specious. And why are they specious? First,
he ignores one change. Capitalism inevitably destroys the heroic
fantasies of its formative phase because of the dialectic regulari-
ties of its own internal economy.17
Hauser tells us: At the outset of popular literature, it included the
works of such authors as Balzac and Dickens, but its process of
decadence and corruption was so hasty that, not much later, George
Onetto [transliteration] and Malai Gorelli [transliteration] became its
authoritative representatives. Why is that? It is because the capi-
talists of the entertainment industry naturally go for making money,
and toward this end they choose bad art, not good art, first of all
because they lack the knowledge to differentiate between good and
bad, and, second, because the bad is easier to produce and easier to
se11.1* Pandering to low tastes is the owners way of looting protits
and maintaining their d ~ m i n a n c e . Hence,
~ ~ things that impart any
seriousness to artistic entertainment have already become obso-
SUMMER 1999 57

lete20 and the in-depth pattern of popularization has been replaced


by the planar pattern of pop.
Second, this gentleman has neglected one difference or antithesis:
Antipopular pop culture is not a popular culture for the people,
and to use Mao Zedongs theories regarding popularization to argue
in defense of so-called pop culture is both illogical and untenable.
As for Li Zehous call on intellectuals to conspire with popular
culture to attain the objective of dispelling orthodox ideology,
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there are ulterior motives behind this call, and it deserves serious
vigilance on our part. I intend to write a special paper to comment
on this matter.

Notes

1. Goncharenko: Spiritual Culture.


2. See the Central Television Stations TV Work, 1985.
3. Commentary in the Hong Kong United Daily.
4. See Collected Studies on Taiwan, no. 1 (1994).
5. See Special Publication for the Twentieth Anniversa ry of Chinese Tele-
vision.
6. See Liberation Daily.
7. See Wenhui Daily.
8. Li Luxin, Pop Songs: The Homestead of Todays Young People @ua
Xia Publishing House, 1993), p. 28.
9. Wang Shuo, Autobiography.
10. Wang Shuo, I A m Wang Shuo.
1 1 . Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. bid.
14. Ibid.
15. Wang Shuo, My Novels.
16. Newman, The Post-Modern Aura (Evanston, IL:Northwestern University
Press, 1985).
11. Collected Literary Theses by Lukacs, vol. 2, p. 444.
18. See The Philosophy of the History or Art.
19. D. McDonald.
20. Horkheimer.

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