CHINESE CULTURAL REVOLUTION; Zhongguo wuju tuan. (China Ballet Troupe.)

Hongse niangzi jun. (The Red Detachment of Women.)

Geming xiandai wuju, yi jiu qi ling nian wu yue yanchu ben. (Contemporary Revolutionary Opera: the Script of the May 1970 Performance.) [Choreography by Li Chengxiang, Jiang Zuhui and Wang Xixian, music by Wu Zuqiang and Du Mingxin, and design by Ma Yunhong.]

Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1970 Stock Code: 149732
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The first Chinese revolutionary opera

First edition, first impression, of the full performance directions for the first revolutionary model opera written and performed in Mao's China, which provided some of the defining images of Maoist stage propaganda. This is an unusually nice copy with a pleasing provenance, bought in Beijing by the prominent sinologist Paul Pickowicz in the year following the opera's adaptation into film.

Based on a true story, The Red Detachment of Women features a peasant girl, Wu Qinghua, who is living in South China and is trapped under the control of a tyrannical master. The communist Red Army eventually comes and frees her, and Wu joins the titular group of women fighters committed to the revolutionary cause, rising to the position of commander. The story is told through a mix of Western ballet and Chinese folk and classical dance, with a dramatic musical score framing the twists and turns. The work is now considered a classic of 20th-century Chinese ballet for its synthesis of modern politicised storylines and incorporation of a variety of cultural influences, both domestic and foreign.

Although the work first premiered on National Day in 1964, it is most closely associated with China's Cultural Revolution decade (1966-1976), during which time it was one of the few dances permitted to be staged. Regular performances in the 1960s culminated in the work being filmed in 1970 and performed for Richard Nixon during his historic visit in 1972, and since the 1990s it has enjoyed a renaissance as part of the permanent repertoire of China's elite ballet troupes.

The present volume, issued to a higher quality than usually seen in Chinese publishing during this period, is a complete guide to staging the ballet. Photographic stills convey the desired "look" of the production, while detailed textual and diagrammatic directions on blocking, choreography, and the musical score elaborate on the complexities of the work. Additional sections on makeup, props and scenic backdrops ensure that all details are historically, politically, and artistically correct, down to the level of the specific designs of banners waved by background performers during scenes of mass gatherings. This comprehensive guide was likely produced to aid subsequent local performances of the work and should be seen as a more specialised - and more expensive - complement to a series of mass-produced and cheap introductions to the revolutionary operas printed around the same time.

The present copy has the ownership inscription of Paul Pickowicz (b. 1945) on the front free endpaper, "Peking, People's Republic of China, July 14, 1971". Pickowicz, later one of the first foreign scholars to be invited to conduct on-the-ground research in China's restricted countryside, was in Beijing as part of a visiting delegation of left-leaning American Asian studies scholars. Several years earlier, a group of American faculty and graduate students including Pickowicz had founded the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars to oppose the Vietnam War and to improve relations between the US and the People's Republic of China. The group's openness to dialogue with China, combined with its opposition to American expansionism, precipitated a formal invitation from the Chinese government for 15 members to visit China in mid-1971. The culmination of the trip was a face-to-face meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing five days after Pickowicz purchased this copy. The 1971 visit, the first time American scholars had set foot in Mao's China, is now regarded as a prelude to the 1972 Nixon visit and therefore as an important step towards the normalisation of relations between Beijing and Washington during the 1970s.

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Octavo. Original red quarter cloth, pictorial paper sides, title to spine and front cover in gilt.


With 2 pages of Mao quotations printed in red before the title page, photographs, diagrams and illustrations on almost every page with several folding.


A couple of unobtrusive marks to cloth, spine ends and tips lightly bumped, slight fading to head of rear cover and a couple of marks, a little foxing to edges, contents clean and fresh. A near-fine copy, the richly-toned photographic plates presenting well.


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