Hung,Chang-tai, War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937-1945.University of California Press, 1994.
While the Chinese
struggle against Japan during World War II and the subsequent victory of the
Communists over Jiang Jieshi’s Nationalists receives large amounts of scholarly
attention, little attention is paid to propaganda and changes in popular
culture during this period.Many
studies assert that Communist forces successfully portrayed themselves as the
primary forces opposing Japan, but few discuss how these claims disseminated
through China’s large and dispersed population. Chang-tai Hung argues that both Nationalists and Communists
relied on urban popular culture, which spread into rural areas to promote
resistance to the invading Japanese, but that Communist propagandists were more
adept at using popular media to promote their own agenda.
The new importance
of popular culture is as important a change as the use made of it. Chinese elites looked down on popular
culture as unsophisticated, and in their urban form as crass
commercialism. However, popular
culture became an important tool for spreading political messages simply
because it was popular and entertaining. The urban popular culture that spread into rural areas after Japan’s
invasion was less commercial, focusing on patriotic and reform messages. Although propagandists relied on media
formats including song, cartoons, newspapers, and poetry, the first important
export to the countryside was spoken drama, delivered by acting troupes that
communicated rather than fought.
The core of Hung’s argument is that the war with Japan was more than a
military crisis – it created an environment when traditional values were
questions, roles of intellectuals changed, and social order altered. These combined with the expansion of
popular culture into rural areas to work to the Communists’ advantage in
winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the people.
The result of these epochal changes was the
development of a new political culture in China focused on rural areas rather
than cities, providing Communists with an advantage in the Civil War against
the Guomingdang. The war created a
crisis for intellectuals, many of whom believed China at a dead end, and that
the GMD’s leadership corrupt and ineffective. The result was a belief that a new era was dawning for
China. The Communists successfully
adapted these feelings to create a new “people’s culture” that minimized the
rich and powerful and served their own ends.