Economics, Politics, and Storytelling in the Yangzi Delta since 1949
Using the example of pingtan storytelling to reexamine the history of cultural reform in the People’s Republic of China, Qiliang He‘s new book integrates political history and performance studies to challenge some widely-held assumptions about the history of the arts in modern China. In Gilded Voices: Economics, Politics, and Storytelling in the Yangzi Delta since 1949 (Brill, 2012). He asks us to reexamine our assumptions about the extent to which the CCP succeeded in making cultural products into tools of propaganda under Mao’s rule. Ultimately, the book argues, the role of the state has been overemphasized, while that of the market has been largely overlooked in the scholarship on cultural reform before the Cultural Revolution. Incorporating rarely-seen archival materials with a series of interviews with storytellers, Communist cadres, and pingtan writers and their fans, Gilded Voices introduces an art form that became an important instrument of political activism and propagandizing, and traces the transformations of the genre into new physical spaces, markets, and visual and aural media. The book offers a fascinating case study that informs broader histories of censorship and theater, and explores the important ways that economic concerns helped shape cultural reform and political activism in China in since 1949.