One of the main themes of this blog, and my whole work, is the tenuous maintenance of expressive culture through the decades of Maoism.
There are many sources for visual images of the period, including the site of Covell Meyskens (see this interview). But photos of folk performance activity in the countryside during the period (like the one above) are less common. One useful source is the Anthology of folk music of the Chinese peoples, under the rubrics of folk-song, narrative-singing, opera, instrumental music, and dance; indeed, the volumes have rare images from the Republican, Maoist, and reform eras.
My posts include many such photos. Here’s a sample—do click on the links for background, and get to know the soundscape through recordings (including the audio gallery in the sidebar, with commentary here).
Several precious photos derive from the definitive work of Yang Yinliu and the Music Research Institute in Beijing, such as
- former monks of the Zhihua temple, Beijing, in 1954:
My tribute to Yang Yinliu includes several numinous images, such as
- Yang Yinliu and Cao Anhe immersed in research at the Institute, 1961:
- A brief excursion to Huashan amidst the gathering political clouds, May 1965:
- Shifan groups in Jiangsu:
- Fieldwork in Hequ, north Shanxi, 1953
- Hunan survey led by Yang Yinliu in 1956:
- including former performers of the Confucian ritual in Liuyang:
- Meanwhile in Suzhou, a remarkable 1956 project documented a complete Daoist jiao ritual:
- Li Quanmin’s survey of Fujian, 1961–62:
- More from Xi’an: former Daoist priest An Laixu leading a 1961 visit to Beijing:
- Recreational ensembles in Yulin, Shaanbei:
- including this wonderful 1962 photo of the Qiao family:
- Images of rural narrative-singing include the model bard Han Qixiang in Shaanbei, and Xihe dagu in Hebei:
A wealth of photos of qin zither players from the period is available, such as
as well as this image of members of the Beijing Guqin Research Association from 1956:
A teahouse gathering of qin players in 1959, with no hint of the social crisis of the time:
Yue Ying making a rare recording in 1972:
For the Li family Daoists in Shanxi,
- this is a rare image of Li Peisen and his wife (late 1940s?):
- and the only early photos of the great Li Qing were taken during his brief sojourn in the secular regional troupe in 1959:
If only we had images (or films!) of them performing rituals in the period…
Still in Yanggao,
- the wonderful Li Jin during his time as an errentai operatic clown:
Meanwhile in Hebei, photos of ritual groups from the period are again rare. Perhaps the most remarkable image of all is
- former Buddhist monk Daguang with his disciples in North Xinzhuang village in the Beijing suburbs, 1959:
- This photo of shawm players in Shaanbei dates from 1981, as the commune system was being dismantled:
I’m still curious to learn if such images might be available for expressive culture in Stalin’s Russia. Supplementing our talks with people who recall the Maoist era, it looks as if despite their appalling sufferings, folk traditions in embattled local communities in China were maintained with more resilience, however tenuously. Do read the posts in which these photos appear!