Quotation Songs: Portable media and Pop song form in the Chinese 1960s

Professor Andrew F. Jones Chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

A China Studies Centre Distinguished Speaker Lecture

As the Cultural Revolution reached its crescendo in the years between 1966 and 1969, a new and remarkable form of popular music saturated Chinese public space by way of a system of hundreds of millions of wired loudspeakers that spanned the country. 'Quotations songs' set Chairman Mao’s writings to music, and were deliberately conceived as a musical analogue and mnemonic device for The Quotations of Chairman Mao. Surprisingly, these songs adapted from what is now known as “Little Red Book” were eventually proscribed by Chairman Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, who objected to what she saw as their off-colour propensity to set listeners into pleasurable motion. Yet what could possibly be promiscuous (or even pleasurable) about a choral march in duple meter entitled (to cite just one of the more than one hundred such compositions that were published and recorded) “Ensure that Literature and Art Operate as Powerful Weapons for Exterminating the Enemy”? The answer may lie not just in the ecstatic movement which sometimes accompanied the performance of such music, but also in the deliberate promiscuity of their form. By form, I indicate not only their musical, lyrical, and ideological characteristics, but also the way in which these qualities made use of the new technological possibilities and ever expanding reach of the socialist mass media in the 1960s. Quotation songs, in a manner not radically different from popular music in the same years in the West, were designed for promiscuous movement, for effortless portability. And as with the mass-mediated pop songs of the 1960s in the US and Europe, the revolutionary songs of the 1960s owed their popularity in part to the self-conscious crafting of a ‘hook’ - a ‘catchy’ melodic figure, catchphrase, or distinctive sound that rendered a song not only recognisable but also replicable in disparate media and contexts.

One of the arguments of this chapter is that the rhetorical logic of the “hook” is already implied by the citational form of the “Little Red Book” itself. Quotations songs were in fact the product and the logical conclusion of a system of what we might now call “cross-platform marketing” or “media interactivity” that took shape in the Chinese 1960s, and their power was premised on the ease with which they travelled across different media, from print to performance, from radio to records, and from the revolutionary postures of the “loyalty dance” to poster art.

Andrew Jones

Andrew F. Jones is Louis B. Agassiz Professor of Chinese and Chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include music, cinema, and media technology, modern fiction, children's literature, and the cultural history of the global 1960s. He is the author of Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music (1992) and Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age (2001), co-editor of a special issue of positions: East Asia cultures critique entitled The Afro-Asian Century, and translator of literary fiction by Yu Hua as well as Eileen Chang's Written on Water (2005). His latest books are Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture (2011), and a volume co-edited with Xu Lanjun, 儿童的发现 - 现代中国文学及文化中的儿童问题 (The Discovery of the Child: the Problem of the Child in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture) (2011).