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In Chongqing, it's yesterday once more as a citywide campaign has been launched to popularize 36 "melodic revolutionary songs" among its 30 million citizens.
This is something reminiscent of the good old days in the 1950s, when such songs were part of life. The Chinese people, in an age of innocence, just loved to sing those songs in praise of the Party, the motherland and a beautiful life. The rhythms and lyrics have become a hallmark of that time.
I have no doubt of the good intentions of the local authorities to plunge its citizens into a mass movement to learn and sing those revolutionary songs, known as "red songs." The city has just concluded the largest anti-gang crackdown in the history of new China, meting out sentences to thousands of gangsters as well as to more than 50 government officials involved. There is a desperate need to cultivate a healthy environment of social moral against the evil influence of the underground society the city had gone through.
According to a directive issued by the local authorities, local television and radio stations must broadcast these songs in rotation and with "high frequency" so that "every member of the cadres and the masses of people would be able to sing, and love to sing" these songs.
This sounds peculiar and surreal to me. It is purely an issue of personal taste when it comes to choice of favorite songs. One man's meat is another man's poison. How can you make someone like something that he happens not to be enthusiastic about? What if he just refuses to learn? What if he still cannot sing even after relentless efforts to learn? Yes, the scenario is highly possible. I have seen the list of the 36 songs, and I know none of them. If there are no clear answers to these questions, the movement could turn out to be superficial without any substance, and a waste of human and financial resources.
One of the biggest achievements of the more than 30 years of reform and opening-up is that there has been increasingly less state interference into people's private lives. One now enjoys unprecedented freedom to do whatever one wants, to buy a car, to start a business, to go abroad for travel and study, etc, so long as it does not violate the law or harm the interests of others. The age of collective political mania has long gone, and anything even of the slightest resemblance cannot but raise people's eyebrows.
I am aware of the sense of urgency for the city to re-establish its image, hurt by the gangsters and corrupt officials who had acted as their protection. But good intentions alone do not guarantee a good result. I just don't get the relationship between "red songs" and a clean and effective government. Many of the corrupt officials had been the best preachers for moral integrity and clean politics before they were brought down. And if singing “red songs” could purify one’s mind, we would have long lived in a utopian society.
It was the failure of law and the collusion between gangsters and some corrupt officials that led to the rampant expansion of the mafia in Chongqing, not the lack of "red songs." Let the people choose which songs they like to sing, whether revolutionary, traditional or popular. The strong note that the city really needs is the rule of law.