Living in the past

In the 1980s a story did the rounds in the Central Conservatoire in Beijing, about a group of students sent to do fieldwork in a remote part of southwest China. In one village the peasants seemed not to have heard of Chairman Mao, and when asked “So who’s in charge, then?”, they hesitantly replied “Um… is it called Ming dynasty?” They hadn’t even heard of the Qing.

Of course this sounds apocryphal, a kind of Shangri-La story. Generally, however backward the conditions of places we visit, the scars of Maoism are evident. But I’m not sure we can dismiss it entirely…

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