Why Teresa Teng Could Not Visit Mainland China

(Southern Weekend via Sina.com)  By Zhao Lei (赵蕾).  August 3, 2006.

[in translation]

If it were not for the severe criticism of the Super Girl contest, many people would have no idea who Liu Zhongde (刘忠德) is.  His previous work and art had affected the Chinese people closely, as many of the familiar movies, music, popular songs and even Zhao Benshan's act on the Spring Festival Gala were connected to Liu Zhongde.

According to his biography, he was a former deputy secretary-general at the State Council, former deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department (1990-1998), former Minister of Culture (1992-1998) and he is presently a member of the standing committee of the National Political Consultative Committee.  Since joining the National Political Consultative Committee, he has rarely spoken in public about what he thought and did during his tenure.

Who is Liu Zhongde?  What kind of person is Liu Zhongde?  What are his values?  In the 1990's, how did he participate in and manage ideological work in China?

One thing for certain is that during the 1990's, he was someone who personally experienced and promoted ideological control in Chinese culture.  He personally knew all about the bitterness, glory and shame.  His own assessment of himself is: "I have a clear conscience, and they can say anything they want about me."

On July 9, 16, 23, 30 and 31, 2006, our newspaper interviewed Liu Zhongde on five occasions for over 15 hours.  We want to bring back a more realistic portrayal of Liu Zhongde.


The office of Liu Zhongde is located in a courtyard of the Ministry of Culture in the city of Beijing.  When I entered the office, I saw that there was a poster on the right about the opera "Eight Girls Jumped Into The River."  The poster had the figures of the eight girls who jumped into the river, with Liu's personal calligraphy for the name of the opera.

"Eight Girls Jumped Into The River" was the story of eight anti-Japanese resistance fighters Leng Yun, Hu Xiulan and others who fought valiantly and then committed suicide by jumping into the river rather than be captured by the enemy.

"It was in the room next door that I said, 'Super Girl is definitely not art.  It is a disgrace for art.'  The next day, there were earthquakes all over China," Liu Zhongde laughed when he said that.

On April 20, 2006, Liu Zhongde said those words just as the Super Girl contest was entering into the general selection phase.  At the time, the newspapers quoted Liu Zhongde: "At the time, I was writing the Chinese drama 'Swan Lake'.  I said that the Chinese drama Swan Lake was high art and ethnic culture.  Running these Super Girl and Super Guy is a disgrace for art.  On the next day, all the newspapers published that with big headlines.  My main hope was to see that the relevant parties and organizing units should have a sense of social responsibility."

Reporter: Was this about the children?

Liu Zhongde: The children are still young, so how wrong can they be?  They don't understand anything.  Later on, the Super Girl organizers and the supervisory departments traveled to Beijing and they said that they wanted to seriously think about my idea and make sure that they have a sense of social responsibility.  

But the children did not understand the good intentions of "Grandpa Liu."  Liu Zhongde continues to insist that while he liked high culture, he does not oppose popular art.  He only objects to vulgarity.

There are also Super Girl critics who believed that public television stations are different from commercial television stations.  The commercial television station cannot be blamed for showing programs like Super Girl, but the public television stations should not be broadcasting those types of programs without having first gotten the consent of the audience.

Liu Zhongde: To mix up national and private business, the popular and the vulgar, the national directives and entertainment -- there must be some objective standards.  The so-called "Dreams of China" is not a good program.  Entertainment should be managed as well.

Reporter: But the television stations have to consider the ratings.  Of course, some people say that "the ratings are the root of all evil."

Liu Zhongde: It is getting too serious and absolute to say that "ratings are the root of all evil."  There are good and bad things about high ratings.  There are good programs with low ratings.  That is to say, ratings cannot be the sole standard of judgment.

More than three months later, Liu Zhongde continues to stick to his views.  He reiterates that many people support him.  This is also related to his biography.

In 1990, Liu Zhongde went from deputy secretary-general at the State Council to become a deputy director at the Central Propaganda Department.  He was then transferred to become the Minister of Culture and held that position for six years.

From 1990 to 1998, Liu worked on ideological control in culture for eight years.  Those eight years were the years in which the changes in China were the most rapid, and also the years in which the ideological control in culture was the most complicated.

Liu Zhongde: I became the Minister of Culture in 1992.  At that time, the singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan filled up the stages and television screens, and there were also vulgar beauty pageants.  I remember that at the Beijing Sports Stadium, Cheng Fangyuan sang a popular song.  But because the song did not come from Hong Kong or Taiwan, the audience began to boo.  This was abnormal.  So many people said that the Ministry of Culture and the Central Propaganda Department ought to issue orders to stop this.  But these two departments only have several hundred workers.  Even if they worked 24 hours a day, they could not keep watch on what happens in 9.6 million square kilometers of land.  So I conducted a simple research.  Why do the singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan get high appearance fees?  Because the bosses pay them.  Why do the bosses pay them?  Because there are advertising and media effects.

So Liu Zhongde decided to take some drastic measures.

In 1993, a Nanjing newspaper reporter interviewed him.  Liu Zhongde said that the central, provincial and municipal media should not be carrying advertisements for concerts by Hong Kong and Taiwan singers or vulgar beauty pageants.  The reporter published a brief note in the local media.  In the end, two Hong Kong-Taiwan concerts in Jiangsu were cancelled because the bosses withdrew their financial support.

Soon afterwards, Liu Zhongde went to visit Japan.  The Asahi Shimbun carried a report with this sentence: In China, the phenomenon of Hong Kong-Taiwan singers and vulgar beauty pageants filling up the stages and television screens is over.

Liu Zhongde: Actually, I don't want to wipe everything out.  On one hand, I cannot let the Hong Kong and Taiwan singers completely take over our stage.  On the other hand, we need to maintain normal cultural exchange with Hong Kong and Taiwan.  My understanding is that administrative measures are not totally effective.  It is necessary to use economic means in accordance with the nature of the things themselves.  I joined in the "5-1 Project."  At the time, the best programs politically speaking were also good programs artistically.  Everybody loved them.  I want art to be neither "left" nor "right."

During his six years as Minister of Culture, Liu said that he started with the reform of the cultural system.  He said that the reform of the cultural system must fit market rules as well as artistic rules.  When the Hong Kong-Taiwan singers are not "over-flooding," the stage must not be left empty.

Reporter:  Did your actions back then affect the cultural exchange between the  mainland and Hong Kong-Taiwan?

Liu Zhongde: Certain people in Hong Kong and Taiwan said that I was turning "left."  They said that I was opposed to cultural exchange between Hong Kong-Taiwan and the mainland.  Actually, during my tenure, the cultural exchange between Hong Kong-Taiwan and the mainland was the highest.

Liu Zhongde does not conceal his own preferences: "I like beautiful singing, but I also like some of Teresa Teng's songs."

In 1980, Teresa Teng was already known throughout the mainland.  At the time, her sweet music was described as "decadent music," or even "yellow music."  It was very controversial back then.  Yet Liu Zhongde said that he liked many of the songs of Teresa Teng.

Reporter: Which of the Teresa Teng's songs do you like first?  "When will you be back?"  "Sweet as honey," "Don't pick the wildflowers by the roadside," "I only care about you," or "Seeing the smoke from kitchen chimney again"?

Liu Zhongde: Even though the songs of Teresa Teng were not all healthy, one cannot erase them in one swoop.  Many of her songs are thoughtful and full of feelings.  For example, I like "The Story of a Small City."

In 1992, after Liu Zhongde became the Minister of Culture, he tried hard to get Teresa Teng to come and hold concerts in mainland China.

Reporter: Why didn't she come?

Liu Zhongde: Teresa Teng also wanted to hold concerts in the mainland and we were ready to let her come.  But a few days after the decision was made, the newspapers printed a story that she had joined a Nationalist organization.  So we had to investigate.  By the time the investigation was completed, Teresa Teng passed away unexpectedly on May 8, 1995 in Thailand.

Reporter: Do you feel any regrets?

Liu Zhongde: That was one of my regret as the Minister of Culture.  I believe that it was also a regret for Teresa Teng not to be able to come to the mainland.

Reporter: If she did not pass away, would she come to the mainland?  Would you meet her?  If you were to meet her, what would you tell her?

Liu Zhongde:  When I think about it now, if I let her come to hold concerts in the mainland, I would be criticized a great deal.  But if I did not make the decision and then apply to my superiors one level at a time, nobody would have made the decision.  I am like that.  I don't care what others say once I make up my mind.

Liu believes that he is someone who dares to assume responsibilities.  On that subject, he mentioned how the opera "Turandot" took place at the Imperial Ancestral Temple.

Reporter:  There must have been some risks by staging it at a place such as the Imperial Ancestral Temple.

Liu Zhongde: Of course.  "Turandot" was staged at the Imperial Ancestral Temple.  If a cigarette butt caused the Imperial Ancestral Temple to be burned down, who is responsible?  The conductor of "Turandot" was the Indian Zubin Mehta, who is one of the three most famous conductors in the world.  In order to stage Turandot at the Imperial Ancestral Temple, Mehta came to see me three times.  On the first two times, I did not give the approval.  On the third occasion, he said that he loved China a lot.  When Premier Zhou Enlai visited India back then, he stood in the streets and held up a Chinese flag to greet Premier Zhou.  His greatest wish is to see the Chinese tale Turandot be staged at the Imperial Ancestral Temple.  He convinced me.  I said, "Alright.  If anything happens, I will assume responsibility."

Liu Zhongde assesses the Minister of Culture this way: As the leader of the Ministry of Culture of a nation, one must maintain a clear head and hold firm positions on what to promote and what to oppose, on what to manage and what not to interfere with.


Within Liu Zhongde's cultural value system, patriotism and love for the Party are extremely important factors.  According these standards, as an audience member, Liu Zhongde thought that the sight of urination during the wine brewing in the movie "Red Sorghum" was undesirable.

The movie "Red Sorghum" was directed by Zhang Yimou.  "Red Sorghum" was an early work of Zhang Yimou, and many of this earlier works were criticized as showcasing the "backward China."

Reporter: What is so undesirable about it?

Liu Zhongde: China is not that backwards.  The details in "Red Sorghum" satisfied objectively the imagination of certain people about the China phenomenon.  But I still believe that the cinematographic artistry of this movie is first-rate.

In Chen Kaige's movie "Farewell to my Concubine," some of the contents also contained "flaws."  Liu Zhongde thinks that the depiction of the tragic fates of Peking opera performers and homosexuality in "Farewell to my Concubine" is also 'undesirable.'

Liu Zhongde: "Farewell to my Concubine" won some prizes overseas.  Like "Red Sorghum," this movie objectively satisfied the imagination of certain people about the "backward China."  The movie gave the impression that the Japanese invaders loved Peking opera more than the Communists.  Also, there was a large section about homosexuality.  But since he won a prize, it would be big news if the movie was not allowed to be shown in the mainland.  There had to be changes if it was to be shown.  I had to watch it five times before I could figure how to change it.  The suicide of the actor has a bad influence on society, so I changed it to the person played by the actor having committed suicide and it was over in two seconds.  This required some thought, but the influence is completely different after the change.

Liu Zhongde also mentioned a television drama series titled "Being Young" in the early 1990's.  The series described the events among several educated young people in northeast China and it created a strong resonance among the educated young people at the time.  Quite a few educated youth went to original villages that they were sent down to relive that period.

Liu Zhongde: I think that it was mostly good, but I also pointed out where it fell short.  But there were differences in opinion.  At the time, we were assessing the "5-1 Project" and the situation at the Ministry of Culture was very difficult.  Because certain comrades said that "Being Young" belonged to the Literature of Scars, it was bad.  That was the reason why it was not considered and it never got the Feitian Award.

Reporter:  You are often seen at the Spring Festival Evening Show.  Did you screen the show carefully?

Liu Zhongde: Zhao Benshan once had a small segment.  That was the one with a strong stream of "turtle eggs."  It starts off with some sarcasm about the village mayor indulging in food and wine.  I saw that three to four times and I thought that there should be changes.  The village mayor is our most senior leader at the grassroots level.  Their job is not easy and it is not nice to make fun of them.  So I went to see Zhan Benshan.  He was very nervous.  He said, "If this gets spiked, how will I make a living from now on?"  I helped him make the changes, and it was alright after three or four revisions.

Reporter: Speaking about movies, how do you rate the directors today?

Liu Zhongde: Society is at odds in the opinion about the fifth and sixth generations of directors.  I believe that they have their good points.  The older directors have their advantages, but the fifth and sixth generations of directors have their own advantages.  They think fast and they have new ideas.  One year, we were putting on "Turandot" and we asked Zhang Yimou to direct.  He came up with two mobile pagodas and brought the fixed set to live.  It was very creative.

Reporter:  What about "The Promise"?

Liu Zhongde: I heard that the investment for the movie "The Promise" was huge, but the effect and the financial returns were not commensurate.  I believe that we can point out the flaws of these movies, but we do not need to dismiss them all in one swoop.  That is the minimal degree of self-cultivation.

During his tenure, Liu Zhongde participated in the evaluation of every foreign movie that was shown in the Chinese market.

Liu Zhongde:  When I first saw "The Silent Dawn," I said two things.  First, when men look at women in war, the women look ever greater; second, when women look at war, it is even more brutal.

In this movie, the first scene began with the woman warriors bathing in the river.

Liu Zhongde: That was later excised.  At the time I said, if the author disagrees when he finds out, then he will think that whereas he wants to say that war destroys the most beautiful things, the scene was cut out as pornography.

In the mid-1990's, the American movie "Forrest Gump" was shown in mainland China.  When the movie was evaluated, Liu Zhongde said three things that stunned everybody.

Liu Zhongde: First sentence, "Life is unpredictable like the feather in the wind which does not know where it will be blown to."  Second sentence, "Life is determined by fate, so that everything is determined by fate."  After I said that, everybody looked at me strangely.  Once I said the third sentence, they all understood.  "Live does not require you to be strong, but you must be strong because you cannot survive without being strong."

"Life does not require you to be strong, but you must be strong."  When Liu Zhongde said that, it was with some reflection.  Under his cultural leadership, there are two key themes: patriotism and revolutionary heroism.

On the several times when Liu Zhongde mentioned his experiences before the Liberation, he was emotional.

"The Sad Dawn" was a work by Liu Zhongde, and it described how a group of young students went to the battlefield for the liberation of northeastern China.  In the end, only one of them survived.  The sole survivor Lin Mei is modeled upon Liu Zhongde himself.

Liu Zhongde: We came from the revolutionary era, and we are the descendants of revolutionaries.  I was born in the northeast.  My father joined the revolution in 1945 and their generation affected me greatly.  In 1948, I joined the army.  At the time, several of us young men put on military uniforms and went into the battlefield.  In the end, I was the only one to return.  You think about how painful it was back then!

Liu Zhongde said that his generation were especially bonded emotionally to the Party and the nation.

Reporter: Are you firm believe in Marxism?

Liu Zhongde: I joined the Party because I believed in Marxism.  Communists must believe in Marxism.  But it is not easy to study and understand Marxism.  Some people don't even know the ABC's of Marxism and they are talking about Marxism already.  That is hilarious.  What is so great about Marxism?  The theory of capital and surplus value is science.  A while ago, a British media organization ran a survey about who was the greatest person in the world, and many people voted for Marx.  He is the greatest person.  He revealed the nature of capitalism.  He said that Communism is the true Communism.

Reporter:  How do you make the children also believe in Communism?

Liu Zhongde: The Chinese Communists are the only leadership force in China.  Only they can take on the grand task of nationalistic revival and we must let the young people recognize this.  Right now, we want to educate people in patriotism and revolutionary heroism.  Within this, we want young people to understand what kind of organization the Party is, to understand the birth of our national flag, insignia and anthem, and so on.  We are doing some things.  We donate "Knowledge about the Party (young children edition)" to the kindergartens in Beijing.  This book is very meaningful, and the goal is to let the children learn from early on what the Party is, what the Party flag means, when the Party was founded, and so on.


During his tenure, Liu Zhongde was a stalwart force who stopped the takeover of the television screen by the Hong Kong-Taiwan singers and then he began the reform of the cultural system.

Liu Zhongde: When I took over the job in 1992, the opera performance market in China was at an unimaginably low ebb.  One time, I went on a field trip at a certain city and I learned that "at a certain operatic show, there were more than 100 people on stage and only 7 people in the audience."

It was another matter that made him decide to focus on operas.  A famous actress cried to him: "Minister Liu, I have not performed an opera in eight years.  You must do something about operas!"

Liu Zhongde: When I heard "eight years," I knew that eight years can make as well as undo a good opera actor.  So I began to look for scripts.  I read more than 20 scripts, but I did not like any of them.  So I began to write my own.  Writing an opera is an art which not everybody can do.  But I made up my mind and I determined to learn and wrote my first opera "The Sad Dawn."  I read all the teaching materials on opera from the Academy of Arts and then I had practical experience before I wrote it.

With the assistance of his wife, Liu Zhongde spent more four months to gather the material and then one month of write "The Sad Dawn."  When the script was staged in Beijing as well as the place where he lived and worked, its was sold out for more than 30 shows.

But this old Minister of Culture is helpless that the ethnic operas that he rates highly for artistry and that moves him still cannot find an audience.

Liu Zhongde: The large opera houses in our country rarely stage Chinese programs.  It costs more than one hundred thousand RMB to rent the place, so how can the Chinese actors perform there?  I hate those poseurs who pretend that they understand and whenever there is something from overseas, they always say it is good.  For example, the three tenor singers (only the Chinese call them that) Pavorotti, Domingo and Carreras went to Seoul first before coming to Beijing and the tickets in Seoul cost only 1/10 of Beijing.  Many foreigners like to come to China to make money.  The wealthy bosses don't understand.  Some people bring in some vulgar songs, but the audience who doesn't know any better thinks that it is high art.

During his tenure, his regret is "not having done enough for high arts such as opera."  Right now, Liu Zhongde is spending a lot of effort in creating and rehearsing operas.  His Chinese opera "Swan Lake" will be shown in Beijing soon.

Li Zhongde: Let this be a compensation for the regret during my tenure.


Officials in charge of ideological cultural control inevitably get criticized by society.  Liu Zhongde was no exception.

Reporter: How do you assess yourself?

Liu Zhongde: I am neither 'left' nor 'right.'  I follow the law of things in my work.

Reporter: How do you deal with people scolding you?

Liu Zhongde: First, I am not afraid.  Second, I am still not afraid.  I was in Macau earlier and a right-wing magazine published my photograph.  Someone joked to me: "They are calling you leftist."  I read it and there was nothing in it.  It was just rubbish.

On the other side, he admitted frankly that the Central Propaganda Bureau director and the Minister of Culture are the toughest appointed jobs in China.

Reporter: You were the Minister of Culture for six years.  You were also the deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department.  You have managed ideological work before.  How do you assess that work?

Liu Zhongde: In China, the Central Propaganda Bureau director and the Minister of Culture are like the Secretary of Defense in the United States and the Minister of Agriculture in the former Soviet Russia.  These are the most difficult jobs among all the departments.  The manner by which he brings into the leadership will affect whether the nation can maintain stability.  Therefore the ideological work is important.  The ideological work also affects the character of the nation.  If the nation changes color, it will be certain that it is because there is a problem in this area and not because of some economic problems.

Reporter: What are the principles as Minister of Culture?

Liu Zhongde: You must take your problems and study the original works of Marxism.  As Minister of Culture, you must connect theory with reality.  Through learning, you answer the practical problems.  When I first began my job, I spent a week on each artistic area.  It is very difficult to deal with cultural areas.  Someone said that they would rather lead a huge army than eight hundred artists.  You cannot get by in culture because you think that you are older or you are an expert.  You still have to convince the department heads.  You have to keep learning.

When he first started, Liu Zhongde spent seven days on each artistic area.  He locked himself in a room and consulted various material and thought about them.

This system of studying and learning determined his cultural policies over his six years as Minister of Culture.  For example, in music, he promoted ethnic and high-brow music; he did not oppose popular music but he wanted to give it proper guidance.  He allowed the limited development of light metal and soft rock music, but he opposed heavy metal and tuneless music.

Reporter: How do you know the major theme?

Liu Zhongde: The major theme includes many things expressed through many different forms.  Anything that is beneficial to society is a main theme.

Reporter: Among your predecessors, many of them were writers such as He Jingzhi and Wang Meng.  But you are not.  What do you think?

Liu Zhongde: We must treat other people generously.  For my predecessors and successors, we cannot criticize them or insist that a successor must follow the same approach as the predecessor.  We are like a leadership relay team in the Ministry of Culture.  All we can do is to do our own very best and we should not interfere with how others do their work.  Besides, for management work, it is hard to say who is an expert and who is not.

Liu Zhongde had no problem talking about all the major national cultural events that he has experienced.  During his tenure, the opening of the National Opera House was a major event.

Reporter: You graduated from the Harbin Industrial University Department of Industrial and Civilian Architecture.  What do you think of the overall design of the National Opera House?

Liu Zhongde: I am presently still a member of the leadership group for the National Opera House  From the beginning up to now, I have not attended a single meeting.  I think that among the leadership group, I am the only one who has studied architecture.  The architects who participated in the design and discussions are either my teachers or fellow students, and it is not good for me to go there.  Later, people kept asking me why I am an architect but the opera house turned out to be such as a mess.  I have always had to carry this burden.

Reporter: What kind of policy decision occurred for the National Opera House?

Liu Zhongde: Before the construction of the National Opera House began, Premier Zhou Enlai had fought for it for 38 years.  When I first arrived at the Ministry of Culture, I started on this matter.  At the time, the National People's Congress wanted to build a National People's Congress Standing Committee hall but it did not happen.  At the end of 1997, the National Opera House was approved.  I went on a field trip in Europe.  When I came back, I saw four opinions.  First, the design will be done by the Beijing design department; second, it will be built the Beijing city construction unit; third, this will be a present for the 50th anniversary of the nation; fourth, Beijing city will take over the administration afterwards.

I disagreed with all four opinions.  First, this was a national project and should go through an international bidding process.  This does not mean that the project must be given to foreigners, but it will depend on the circumstances.  Second, the National Opera House is a national project, and there should be bidding across the nation for the construction work; third, such a project will take five to seven years, and there was no way to do this in time of the 50th national anniversary; fourth, I proposed that it be administered by the Ministry of Culture upon completion.

Afterwards, Liu Zhongde said, he did not look into the matter anymore.

It can be said that Liu Zhongde spent most of his life with culture.  He is also the leaders of many civil organizations.  Among his many titles, the most eye-catching one is the Executive Vice-President of the International Confucian Studies Association. 

Because of the connection of the association, he has a further title as the Dean of the Academy of International Confucian Studies at the Chinese Politics and Law University.

Reporter: You are "making friends" with Confucius.  In the past, the standing of Confucius was not as high as right now.

Liu Zhongde: It is not easy for our nation and people to properly deal with our culture and cultural heritage.

Reporter: Someone say that in order to raise the position of Confucian studies, it should be made into the guiding thought.  What do you think?

Liu Zhongde: In the field of Confucian studies, somebody actually said that.  But this won't do.  Although the cultural contents of our society today is diversified, cultural leadership work is still monolithic -- only Marxism, Mao Zedong thought, Deng Xiaoping theory and the "three represents."  It is necessary to be very political on this and find the right direction.  In the past, we may think that certain traditional cultures are awful, but they are now essential.  The excellent cultural tradition of Confucianism is part of the progressive culture.

As to whether he will end his career as the Dean of the Academy of Confucian Studies, Liu did not think so.

Liu Zhongde: As long as I can still work, I will do what I think is right and strive hard towards what I believe is the correct cultural direction.

During this time, the Chinese opera "Swan Lake" written by him and his wife Niu Jing is under tight rehearsal.  "It will debut on August 23, and then it will go on to Japan."

Liu Zhongde: Someone said that the young people are a wasted generation.  I say that the young generation of China is full of hope.  They think quickly and they are able to accept new things.  There are obviously some problems there, but I feel that the worst thing is that the young people are spiritually distanced from traditional culture.  Of course, the young people are not at fault themselves.  Right now, I am setting up a Chinese Cultural Restoration Foundation to introduce the cultural arts to young people.  This summer, there will be 100 music concerts and Peking operas at the Zhongshan Music Hall in Beijing.

In 2006, the Chinese Cultural Restoration Foundation donated more than 10,000 copies of "Knowledge of the Party (young children edition)" to all the kindergartens in Beijing.

He said that he likes young people because they are the hope of the nation.

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