Che Guevara: Dramatizing China’s Divided Intelligentsia
at the Turn of the Century

By Yinghong Cheng

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 15, no. 2, pp.1-43

Che Guerava is an experimental play put on stage by a group of Chinese New Left intellectuals and artists in 2000 and 2001 to challenge China’s post- Mao social transformation by evoking Guevara’s spirit. By using montage, the scenes of the play flash back and forth between two historical contexts. One is the 1960s, focusing on the Cuban revolution and Guevarist discourse with other revolutionary movements and decolonization in the Third World in the background. The other is today’s China within a setting of post-communism and globalization. The play attributes China’s social problems to abandonment of Maoism, embracing of market-oriented reforms, and integration into world economy. Filled with sarcasm and even black humor, the play displays strong sentiments of anti-liberalism (liberalism in China’s context refers to the support of free economy, property and human rights, and constitutional government), anti-globalization and anti-Americanism. The play was put on stage in many Chinese cities, including Hong Kong, and generated polar reactions from, and intense debate between, the liberals and New Leftist intellectuals.

The paper seeks to reveal the details of the phenomenon–the play, the producers, and the responses–and attempts to contextualize it in a larger socio-political discourse about China’s current condition. It also connects this phenomenon with responses of the international left to globalization and neo-liberalism. Based on these introduction and analyses, the paper attempts to draw a picture of the contemporary Chinese intellectuals who have been torn apart by ideological divergence and the socio-political implications of such a split to China at the turn of the century.