The Same Song

With the Chinese New Year coming up, the television event will be CCTV's Spring Festival Gala show and this one may or may not beat Super Girl in television ratings.  Meanwhile, in Toronto, New York City and Los Angeles, there will be large-scale evening shows under the theme of The Same Song (同一首歌).

What is The Same Song?  It is an ordinary song.  The music was written by Meng Weidong and the lyrics were written by Chen Zhe and Ying Jie in 1990.  The song was first sung by Liu Chang, and there are other editions by Mao Amin, Leon Lai and numerous others.

The most famous lines are:


[in translation]

The same feelings gave us all the same hopes
The same joy gave us the same song

So what?

In 1999, when the suppression of Falun*Gong began, this song was allegedly used as the principal brainwashing tool.  Thus, when Falun*Gong members were arrested and sent to labor reform camps, they were made to sing this song.  It is alleged that this song still causes great psychological distress among Falun*Gong members.

So there is now a letter signed by a group of overseas dissidents.

[in translation] ... These songs are innocent by themselves.  But when these songs are used by dictators as tools for suppression and mental torture and cause serious psychological damage, can we stand still?  Should we not feel angry and protest the Chinese government using these songs as tools of suppression and mental torture?  If you liked these songs, then you must stand up and you must not accept these innocent songs to become tools of evil.  Here, silence is equal to acceptance.

Now the actions here may be some letter writing as well as protests outside the show venues.  A further question may be whether the songs themselves should be banished on account of the association.

Here is the reflection of an overseas dissident Wang Xizhe (王 希哲) who was not a signer of the aforementioned open letter.  In that sense, Wang is a dissident once more.

[ChineseNewsNet; in translation]

According to reports, a certain song had been used by the oppressors to accompany the oppression . The victims therefore don't like the song.  They don't like it, so they don't want others to like it and they are calling for others to boycott it.  If you won't boycott it, then he becomes unhappy.  They even want to draw the line and push you into the camp of the oppressors.

Actually, such things have happened in the past but they did not happen with the force of this present occasion.

According to reports too, the eight model operas were known to have used by the oppressors as accompaniment while oppression took place for almost ten years.  In which cow barn and prison was the criticism, hard labor and "brainwashing" not accompanied by the loud trumpets from these eight model operas?

Soon after the Gang of Four fell, the eight model operas returned.  So some people said that they felt very painful and they could not 'stand it.'  They said that they 'felt terror' when they hear the music from the model operas.  They 'felt anger', they remembered 'the ten years of oppression' and they want them banned.  When the overseas people heard that model operas were coming, they call for boycott.  But there were still quite a number of people who liked them and so it was nothing doing.  What happened in the end?  The thing just fizzled out.  Those who felt angry continued to be angry because nobody is going to stop them from being angry; those who liked it, they can like it as much as they want because nobody can stop them from liking it.

So, are those people who liked the model operas in the camp of the oppressors?  Most of them are obviously not, and some of them are even in the camp of the oppressed.  Let us not talk about anyone else.  I was exiled to a farm to be the subject of criticism.  Before the criticism sessions, the front line warriors for the masses had to sing The White-Haired Girl to remind people of the hardship of the old days.  Why?  In order to stir up "class hatred" against me (Heavens!  I was about 21 or 22 years old and I had never collected a single cent of rent from the workers at that farm!).  But in my memory, from the beginning of the sessions to later on, I harbored no fear or hatred against The White-Haired Girl.  After the sessions was over, I went down the stage and I helped the "revolutionary masses" put away the chairs and I joined them in the singing.

I followed everyone else and I like all eight model operas, including The White-Haired Girl.  That was because it has the stamp of that era which may be treated as joke material today, but they also had artistic values that the common people liked to see.  They represent the result of how modern Chinese artists transformed the traditional Chinese artistic style, and later works such as Red Sorghum could never approach that level.  Even Jiang Qing herself was confident about them.  In someone's biography, Jiang Qing said in prison: "They can bring me down, but they will never bring the eight model operas down."  But the fact was that the most successful of those operas were already well-known before she stuck her hand in them.

In The Talks At The Yenan Forum On Literature And Art, Mao Zedong said that certain political bad works are artistically good.  This was all the more reason that the proletariat must banish them.  I think that when people complain today that they had been oppressed to the accompaniment of a certain song and therefore they don't want to listen to it and they don't want others to listen to it, they seem to have gotten the essence of Mao Zedong's thoughts on literature.

Actually, why bother?  Let nature take its course.  I don't know whether a song is good or bad.  But I know that if something is no good and if people don't like it, it will be gone with the wind no matter how the government or authorities promote it.  If something is good and people like it, even if someone objects to it, or criticizes it, or even attempt to ban and boycott it, it will continue to live forever in the hearts of the people.  In the end, he who laughs best will have the best laugh.

I hope that you think about my opinion.

Here it will do well to recall the history of the music of Richard Wagner in Israel.  Here are the words of conductor Daniel Barenboim in The Guardian:

In 1938, the decision against his music was understandable, as its terrible associations were too strong. I also understand that some people cannot forget these associations, and one should not ever force them to listen to Wagner's music in concert. However, Israel should also act as a democratic state. This entails not preventing people who are free of these associations from listening to Wagner's music. It is not my intention to wage a missionary's war in favour of Wagner in Israel. I do feel, however, that this is a case where Israel can, and should, define itself as a democracy.

My concert with the Staatskapelle took place in Jerusalem on July 7 2001, with a programme of music by Schumann and Stravinsky and an encore by Tchaikovsky. Afterwards, I turned to the audience and proposed the Prelude and Liebstod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as a further encore. Of course I did not want to play Wagner for an audience that was unprepared for it, and therefore I engaged in a long dialogue with the audience that lasted some 40 minutes, indicating that those who wanted to leave should do so, but that if others wanted to hear it, we were ready to play. Some 20 or 30 people left. And the rest stayed and gave us a standing ovation at the end, which gave me the feeling that we had done something positive.

It was only the next day that the scandal really erupted, which means that it was organised by people who were not there but who had some political agenda, which greatly saddens me. In a democratic society like Israel there should be no room for taboos. The boycott of Wagner is very capricious: the Israel Philharmonic is not allowed to play Wagner, but you can buy Wagner records in Israel, you can hear Wagner on Israeli radio, you can see Wagner videos on Israeli television, and you can have a mobile phone that plays The Ride of the Valkyries. I do not believe that someone who sits at home in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem suffers because he knows that in another city someone is playing Wagner.

This is the part that is murky about the campaign against the The Same Song shows in North America.  You can write to newspapers and websites to complain about how the Chinese government uses the song as a tool of oppression (just like in the movie Clockwork Orange) and you can get a police permit and demonstrate outside the show venues.  That is fair.  But the discourse has slipped into condemning and banishing The Same Song as well as all those who profess that they like the song, and that is not where this ought to be going.