Response to Linda Jaivin’s “Red Detachment” Image Credit: “The Red Detachment of Women” ballet (1964)

Response to Linda Jaivin’s “Red Detachment”


I always thought I knew a lot about China, until I started writing my first book about it. Before I read Linda Jaivin’s article, I thought I knew about The Red Detachment of Women too. It is a classic. Almost every person from mainland China can immediately recall the signature lyrics from the film: In ancient China, Mulan [yes, the same Mulan known to the rest of the world through the Disney cartoon] went to join the army for her father; today, the women’s army hold their guns for the people …

For some reason, I always thought the Women’s Army in The Red Detachment fought against Japanese invaders. I bet if you asked ten Chinese people under the age of forty, “Who did the Women’s Army fight against?” you would receive ten different answers. Most of the younger generation, who must have watched every episode of Doraemon, would not know all the names of the eight model operas of the Cultural Revolution. These shows were the classics of the last century. The younger generation spend their money on K-pop concerts or local productions of Broadway musicals. For this reason, I found the labelling of The Red Detachment as “political propaganda” amusing rather than concerning.

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