Not everyone in China is in love with Chongqing’s red song concerts, but former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder apparently is.
Where people sing, you can settle down – wicked people sing no songs (Wo man singt, lass dich ruhig nieder, böse Menschen haben keine Lieder) is an old saying in German-speaking countries.
Schröder reportedly quoted the lines in an interview or in a conversation with a Chinese reporter in Chongqing, expressing regret that he wouldn’t be able to listen to a red song concert this time, as he was in quite a hurry.
The rest is guesswork. Had Schröder found a polite excuse for avoiding such a concert, or will he be back to Chongqing, soon? Will the megacity’s beautiful event culture as we know it still be alive by then? And will he sing along?
Singing read songs is part of a wider activity, which apparently originated – or, partly, reappeared – in Chongqing. The concept 唱读讲传 stands for 唱红歌、读经典、讲故事、传箴言, i. e. Singing revolutionary songs, Reading classic books, telling stories and spreading mottos.
According to the Chinese collaborative website HuDong, the singing-reading-telling-spreading activities are a mass concept which was started in Chongqing in June 2008, and was widely acclaimed there, and elsewhere in China. The HuDong article was apparently written by a fan (or by a task force at Chongqing’s CCP propaganda department). The author(s) argue(s) that the concept isn’t out of date at all, because
if a country and a nation have no correct thought and advanced culture, it will lose its backbone. The current deep changes of the economic system, the structure of society, and the profound adjustment of interest patterns must be reflected in the ideological field. There is diversity in peoples’ minds, and although the mainstream is positive and healthy, while some peoples’ material life conditions have improved, spiritual life is somewhat empty. To change that condition, and to ensure a safe passing of the torch in the cause of the party and the country, the red flag must be righteously upheld, the ideology of Marxism must be consolidated in its guiding position within the ideological field, and the attractiveness and the cohesive power of socialist ideology must be strengthened.
一个国家和民族没有正确的思想、先进的文化，就会失掉主心骨。当前，经济体制深刻变革、社会结构深刻变动、利益格局深刻调整，必然反映到意识形态领域。人们的思想日趋多元多变多样，虽然主流积极健康向上，但一些人物质生活改善了，精神生活却有些空虚。为了彻底改变这种状况，保证党和国家的事业薪火相传，必须理直气壮地举红旗，不断巩固马克思主义在意识形态领域的指导地位，增强社会主义意识形态的吸引力和凝聚力。[Links within these lines omitted.]
According to the HuDong article, CCP politbureau member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) had deplored the phenomenon of young people who sang decadent songs (唱 .. 靡靡之音, chàng mímí zhī yīn), who were reading “fast-food” kinds of literature (读 .. 快餐文化, dú kuàicān wénhuà), told “low and vulgar stories” (讲 .. 低俗故事, jiǎng dīsú gùshì), and “spread pornographic or dull scripts/pieces” (传 .. 黄段子、灰段子, chuán huáng duànzi, huī duànzi). The advocated mass activities exactly manifested the party’s stance on the needs of development (and many other positive things).
The concept is being promoted nation-wide. Last Sunday, for example, the propaganda department of Chongqing’s CCP branch co-hosted a topical seminar in Beijing. But the singing-reading-telling-spreading movement still appears to hail from a local school of ideology, even if acclaimed nationwide, as suggested by the HuDong article. The English-language Global Times, itself a party mouthpiece, quotes He Bing, vice president of the Law School at China University of Political Science and Law, as saying that
There have been 104,000 “Red Song Concerts” in Chongqing, with 80 million participants. It cost 1,500 yuan ($231) per person for onsite renting and costume expenses, 210 million yuan in total. Adding in the offwork compensation and transportation the final cost is 270 billion yuan. Why don’t they use the money for health insurance?
Bo Xilai has been discussed on many China-related blogs. This blog has only devoted one blogpost to him so far, because this is a hobby-horse, and I’m feeling that Bo would be a rather unpleasant personality. But if the sing-a-longs are indeed popular far beyond Chongqing, they may be serving as an expression of approval for Bo’s policies “in line with the people’s wishes”, when it comes to “battling corruption”. But here, too, not everyone would agree. Zhang Wen (章文), former head of the editorial department of Xinhua’s Globe magazine, criticized Chongqing’s “battle” for disrespecting legal proper proceedings, and explained what may have motivated Bo to address “social” rather than economic issues to become a local, or nationwide, hero.
For more initial clues about Bo’s policies, a link collection by King Tubby might be a good point to set out from. You could also try an even more recent piece by the Chinese Law Prof Blog. Or a more extensive article by former SCMP editor-in-chief Willy Lam.
But be warned. This all spells fast food literature.