Local Actors and National Politics: Rural Amateur Drama
Troupes and Mass Campaigns in Hubei Province, 1949-1953

By Brian Demare

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 24, no. 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 129-178

During the first years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the newly triumphant Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turned their attention to regime consolidation at the local level. In the countryside, the cementing of Communist rule took the form of land reform and other mass campaigns, which were implemented with the help of an outpouring of pro-Communist propaganda. Among the cultural weapons at the disposal of CCP propagandists, dramatic performances were widely assumed to be the most effective, yet few scholarly studies of art produced under the CCP has directly investigated how drama was utilized to implement national policies at the village level.

This study thus aims at uncovering and problematizing the connections between art and politics in the early PRC by exploring the rural drama movement in Hubei Province, which coincided with land reform and other state-building campaigns. Drawing on local gazetteers alongside contemporary reports from cultural workers and critics, this article recreates the province’s cultural infrastructure, both in terms of its institutions and personnel, before discussing how an amateur drama troupe from Caodian Village became the model for a province-wide campaign to build rural drama troupes. Through the investigation of the establishment, creations, performances, and “rectification” of Hubei amateur troupes, this article argues that local art and artists were powerful agents in the implementation of state policies at the local level. Yet the tensions between the dictates of politics and entertainment, as well as the conflicts between personal ambition and party goals, meant that art and politics were never an easy fit in rural Hubei.