But it is not (not just) the support or endorsement of Beijing level Kulturkrats that makes this one bit of Son et lumiere history (of about 20 now-running “onsite reenactments”) specially worthy of attention. Most of these tourist “spectacles” were and remain county or city level “Chamber of Commerce” projects, featuring “what puts us on the map” subjects with no seriously pursued historical footprint, and with joint-venture funding usually from offshore tourist development conglomerates). But not so this: history both local and “national” is addressed and dramatized: the “what it must have been like” element” that draws SUV tourists to Gettysburg is there is spades.
But more even that that; the “folk” enactors amongst whom the (also) amateur Red Army paraders move are of a distaff ethnicity that is, if not unique, then certainly concentrated in the province and counties encompassed in the display: they are kejia (“guest household”) descendants of Hakka (their own pronunciation of the same binome) settlers thick on the upland soil of the sub-Yangtze forested and /or washed out limestone hills.
And they do something (though not shown in the trailer) that other highland sub-ethnics mounting song-and-dance excerpts from their aboriginal culture along the S. China tourist trail almost never do: they TEACH (however short the classes) the local sounds (transsonances) of their songwords and explain the contextual meaning of the music-cum-lyrics that are performed or broadcast non-diegetically over the VERY hightech and high-amp SON part of the S and L production. The “guests” (an irony…) receive not a tourist-shop knick-knack or sample of local tuchan (fruits, wood-carvings etc.). But a kind of diploma, which they must earn by actually working their way through an (undoubtedly) short “hakka” song, whose words they would not understand on the street or even on TV without subtitles…. even if they are (as to be expected) of a piece with most anywhere-in-the-highlands’ shange love-farewell ballads, or “seeing off (love) songs”, song(lang, etc.) ge. [Zhang Yimou’s Yinxiang Lijiang “Show”, the other of the two higher-quality reenactments, and the only one trying out the SON without the LUMIERE), enscripts a Naxi (Tibetan-affine) send-off song to similar effect – as if the tourist will best absorb the pathos (qing) of the “there” and “how they live” if they are imagining themselves as nostalgically recalled departures). ]
To a foreigner if not to an educated Chinese this version of history remembered surely seems – well, puzzling, even disrespectful. For the events that are in motion (and recast in memory) are National (Sinitic) in import and something like religious in overtone: we are witnessing the (admittedly aborted) first step toward the Maoist People’s State, led (though we don’t see him..) by the Garibaldi of the day himself, the Genius of the East-is-Red (Dawn) one day to be seen from the “Watchtower” at the pass (wanghong ting). If this then is the Finale of a grand pilgrimage to “where it all began”, or a trip to the Wailing Wall or Temple of the Mount, why is the ceremony conducted (as if in) something the equivalent (in context) of Syriac-Aramaic or even Armenian – incomprehensible to the current-day Israeli – but the lingua franca of the E. Mediterranean at the time of the Frankish crusades that lie at the start-point of the Birthing of Europe from without the scattered fragments of the Western empire.