In the Water

Pei Jing


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silk screen print on paper
54 x 70 cm
This work references one of the ‘Eight Model Operas’ (yangbanxi, 样板戏) created and popularised by Madame Mao (Jiang Qing) in the early 1960s. These revisions of traditional operas and ballets were created in response to Mao’s complaint that Chinese opera performances were still filled with ‘emperors, kings, general, chancellors, literati and beauties’ instead of the proletarian heroic workers, peasants and soldiers whose example would inspire and serve the broad masses of the people. These model operas were seen by every Chinese person, as they were the only permissible theatrical performances until after the downfall of Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four: they were broadcast over the radio, made into movies, reproduced on posters and staged all over China. This particular image represents a scene from ‘The White-Haired Girl’, an opera first performed in 1945 and later adapted to a film in 1950, a Peking opera performance in 1958 and the ballet performed in Shanghai in 1965. According to Pei Jing, the book she holds in one hand is the script of the play. The story tells of the suffering and final triumph of a peasant girl whose misery was inflicted by an evil landlord, making the original tale an obvious choice for adaptation as propaganda. Together with ‘Red Detachment of Women’ this ballet is one of the classics of revolutionary China.
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