Deng Xiaoping’s Unexpected Orientalist Iconography


“Tang” Multi-ethnic Splendor and the Parade of the “Dunhuang” dancers (all 600!!!)

Far and away the best example of this disguised “Oriental” aggrandizement occurs, perhaps surprisingly, at the celebration of the 30th Birthday of the PRC, in October 1979, precisely at that point in time when Deng Xiaoping solidified his hegemony as head of P and S. (Which congress?). First conceived in late 1977, a Dance Drama/Pageant called “Along the Silk Road” (silu huayu), an apogee of Orientalism, far and away the best of the (later) Dunhuang “dramas” and films was first played in Beijing on Oct 1979, then, one month later, given the signal honor of an unabbreviated solo presentation at an evening Gala at the great Hall of the People. Of course of consideable import in this schedule was the establishment in jan of 1979 of formal diplomatic relations with the U.S.


If such grand re-unions or restorations are the most likely prompt for historical allegory, then the staging of a Grand – and monarchical – Feast in the autumn of that year surely is the key to that no-exspense-spared dance-cum-pageant (an exercise one must also note that began the demotion of Red Sister’s Brigade from the pinnacle of “export” dance it has occuoied since 1964). .


Rebuilding Classical Dance and the Dunhuang Danceuse cum pipa

Two aberrant features of “China’s” Ceremonial Banquet dance tradition need however to be noted from the top, since they have from the start bedeviled the emplacement of a distinctly “Han” (or “Han-Tang”) choreo-iconography, and thereby (almost) disqualified.

(1) There are no living extent remnants of Hand Tang choreographies: reconstruction from (Buddhist) murals and Han rubbings has been the conduit; and

(2) what we know of earlier or “medieval” performances suggests they seem to have been built on or around 各种舞蹈技巧 or contortionist quasi-gymnastic maneuvers, highlighting physical agility more perhaps than what we would identify as choreomaneuvers or poses 舞姿. (I.e., for the latter the hasta, and related hand-wrist gesture and neck slides one finds in Hindic and Central Asian dance: see below).

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