Even “socialism with special characteristics” has its downside, and according to Hu Jintao, in an address to his comrades at the CPC’s 22nd “collective study” session on the 23rd of July, that downside is threefold, a triumvirate of debased culture: san su. The result is the “anti-vulgarity” (反三俗) campaign.Urging politburo members to promote “the development and glory of socialist culture,” Hu launched a fight against vulgar (庸俗), cheap (低俗) and tasteless (媚俗) cultural content. These have various interpretation in the English press, although I prefer philistine (庸俗), tasteless (低俗) and kitsch (媚俗).
The cause of debased culture seems to be money worship, and is framed as a negative result of China’s move to a market economy. The BBC has some coverage here. Some television dating programs accused of propagating “debased” culture were already taken off the air, and the immense popularity of the TV serial remake of “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which showed near naked ladies in their boudoir fanned the flames. The 18th Century novel, although written in the vernacular, and was certainly not literati reading material, is definitely sacred territory in the Chinese cultural heritage department (can’t wait for the boxed set).
On August Culture Minister Cai Wu addressed the “vulgarity” in the cultural sector, with a “Confucian classics-thumping” fury not unlike conservative traditionalists of a century ago: “We produce some 400 movies and hundreds of TV drama programs each year, but how many of them will be recognized as classics?”And further, “In today’s world, a country’s culture and economy are inseparable. A government must pay more attention to culture and originality if it wants to improve the quality of economic development.” (source China Daily)
Some are saying that all this moral crusading is leading up to a new cultural revolution. Although that seems like a steep accusation, its clear that “Cultural Sector Reforms” are approaching (see the official break down on Xinhua here), and will first be reflected in mass media outlets like television and magazine publishing.
But what does this mean for contemporary art? Well, Liang Shuo should watch his back. The artist’s “kitsch” aesthetic seemed constantly under attack from Chinese critics who feel his work is merely performing a “Chineseness” to foreign audiences. (Pauline Yao has a review of his recent show here on eFlux) But I somehow feel my favorite brand of “red kitsch” isn’t in danger at all…
UPDATE: The LA Times has a story on crosstalker Guo Degang, the highest profile celeb to fall victim to the war on “Kitsch.”