Performing for the people : a history of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra in the People's Republic of China, 1956-1996
Abstract of thesis entitled
Performing for the People: A History of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra in the People's Republic of China, 1 956-1996
Oliver Kwong-Chung Chou
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
at the University of Hong Kong
in June 2003
This study concerns the history of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China from its inauguration in July 1956 to its last concert in February 1996. The period covered is one of volatile political (including ideological and diplomatic) and socioeconomic developments in the People's Republic. Despite adverse circumstances, the orchestra survived through its changing rctison d'etre in accordance with the wavering policy at the top. It was both a propaganda vehicle symbolizing China's modernity and tolerance of western culture, and an experimental institution trying out different styles of symphonic music with Chinese characteristics. But its very nature as a western art craft lay bare its susceptibility to political and ideological assaults.
This study starts with the historical development of symphony orchestras in modem China and the process that led to the founding of the Central Philharmonic in 1956. All hopes and aspirations behind the inauguration came to a halt in the Anti-Rightist Campaign a year later and the orchestra since then existed at the mercy of the nation's political fortune based on the will of officials in the top leadership and the orchestra players' own adaptability to the radical policy. The orchestra was constantly put to the test but survived, including the decade-long Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when it functioned as a "model troupe" under the patronage of Jiang Qing, wife of chairman Mao. It was an era of honor, as well as horror, when political fanaticism claimed human lives among the widely divided and disillusioned musicians. The
orchestra's defiance against the radicals in the final phase of the Cultural Revolution displayed a rare bravery and integrity at the time. These qualities were once again demonstrated when the entire orchestra performed for the students on hunger-strike at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
But the biggest challenge to the orchestra's struggle to survive, strangely enough, was during the era of China's reform and opening up since 1978. The failure to reform its antiquated management structure and the lack of music directorship resulted in a gradual deterioration of the orchestral strength, accelerated further by the massive brain-drain of young players and the aging musicians that remained. Despite an evident resurgence in late 1993 that brought about fresh sponsorships and a new management, the reform came too little, too late. Its eventual disbandment in 1996 remains a contentious issue ever since it was forced to give way (o the new China National Symphony Orchestra.
The history of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra is a testimony of an attempt to import and develop an essentially western elite culture during China's historic transition from revolutionary frenzy to economic construction. Just as its birth in 1956 being a major fruition of the "Hundred Flowers" advocacy, the orchestra's demise in 1996 was a result of the intricate structural reform of state-level art bodies. This study strives to document that painstaking process that spanned four decades, and the heavy toll it took.
School:The University of Hong Kong
School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:zhong yang yue tuan jiao xiang dui orchestra china
Date of Publication:01/01/2003