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-by Ernie Diaz
Those who would understand China’s split national personality must start with the color red. From antiquity, red meant imperial majesty. For millennia, the starving and exploited masses saw red as the reason – imperial glory first, peasant bellies last.
Finally, China evolved into the semblance of a republic, however briefly. Then the birth of modern China, communist China. Its new color, the color of spilled laborers’ blood, same as the old color – red. Thus do party secretaries and committee delegates routinely hold up Beijing traffic for hours, so their motorcades can race through unimpeded. China’s flag justifies the contradiction.
China is the second most famous country for coming under the hammer and sickle. Like big brother USSR, the PRC spent her early years grappling with bipolar disorder, utopic and dystopic by turns.
Chen Ke’s first solo show, Red Road, on display at Beijing’s Red Gate Gallery, is meant as a paean to the utopic side. The PRC’s infancy was hell on the proletariat, but some like it hot. Many of you wouldn’t mind the labor and privation if you were burning with the belief that you were finally doing something meaningful, that you were contributing to a greater glory, and that you no longer had to struggle with the privileged lording it over you, or the poor diminishing your soul.
But we’re guessing that Chen Ke is unfamiliar with the occult roots of communism. He probably knows that communist red (not yet an official Crayola™ color) is for the spilled blood of laborers, but not that communism’s Masonic antecedents adopted red as the symbol of blood everywhere, on the streets, on the throne, in the nursery, that the old order be toppled to make way for the new. Red is the color of bloody revolution, of the blood sacrifice required to kill a world and birth a new one.
So we don’t see how it’s possible to view Chen’s take on early PRC utopia without the larger context of red revolution, the rivers of blood which irrigated those early days, and the Cultural Revolution which followed. We’ve added snatches of Red Guard songs to emphasize this perspective.
The war drums are sounding,
Who fears who in today’s world?
It’s not the people who fear American imperialism,
But American imperialism who fears the people!
Not until our fresh blood stains the banner of war
Our loyalty will show
Not until bombs burst open our breast
It will show, our hearts are red like fire
I go to work after class, cutting weeds, collecting manure, and picking up the lost wheat ears.
The more I work, the more I love it.
Ayh-hey-hey, Aye-hey-hey, Always keeping in mind the good character of the poor-and-lower-middle peasants,
Loving the collective and loving labor, I am a little member of the commune!
A horse’s back was my cradle, following the army to the west and to the east
My first sentence was “make revolution”
My first song was “The East Is Red”
The dew of socialism nourished me, I grew up beneath the red flag
We are neither afraid of ferocious wolves standing in our way, nor of fierce tigers and panthers
We dare to think, to speak up, to act, to rush, dare to make revolution
Beat them until they vanish like mist, and the sun starts shining red again.
Nor melons leave the vine.
The revolutionary masses can’t do without the communist party.
Mao Zedong Thought is the sun that shines forever.
Hold high the revolutionary banner and fight bravely.
Victory will surely belong to people.
One must face sacrifice, one must face sacrifice!
One must even sacrifice one’s life
If I’m finished so be it, if I’m finished so be it
Piercingly staring at the clouds and the sky
Our longing hearts burning with anxiety
When Chairman Mao enters Tiananmen Square
Even mountains and rivers rejoice.
The Red Guards are not afraid of hardship on the march
Who cares about storms and snow, hardships and dangers
Ten thousand waters and a thousand mountains are nothing