Two images from the 1950s.
Recently I wrote a mini-series of posts on the fortune of expressive culture through the first fifteen years of the PRC, and the intrepid scholars who documented it—worth reading along with my tribute to the great Yang Yinliu:
- Hequ 1953
- Hunan 1956, and The Confucian ritual in Hunan
- Glimpses of the early 1960s’ cultural revival
- Fujian, 1961 and onwards
This happens to be an important period for the relationship of politics and culture—the Maoist decades are a crucial bridge from the “old society” to the current reform era—but that’s not the only reason for studying it. One always seeks to gain a picture of change over the lifetimes of informants; if we had visited in the 1880s, or indeed the 880s, we would also have asked them how their social and cultural life had before the cataclysms of the Taiping uprising and the An Lushan rebellion respectively. While I’m critical of reified studies that are limited to the “salvage” of an idealized past, a diachronic approach is always valuable.
* * *
I followed up that series with Great Female Singers Week (cf. A playlist of songs):
- Barbara Hannigan (third in a series on her artistry)
- Enza Pagliara (also part of a series on expressive culture in Italy)
- Billie Holiday (further to Lives in jazz)
Expressive culture (both popular and elite) always makes a revealing prism through which to view social change—whether for China, Puglia, New York, or Vienna.