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Maoist Laughter$
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Ping Zhu, Zhuoyi Wang, and Jason McGrath

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9789888528011

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888528011.001.0001

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Joking after Rebellion

Joking after Rebellion

Performing Tibetan-Han Relations in the Chinese Military Dance “Laundry Song” (1964)

(p.54) 3 Joking after Rebellion
Maoist Laughter

Emily Wilcox

Hong Kong University Press

In 1964, the Tibet Military Area Political Department Cultural Work Troupe presented its new dance work, “Laundry Song,” at the PLA’s Third All-Military Arts Festival in Beijing. Although standard accounts interpret “Laundry Song” as a celebration of Han-Tibetan and soldier-civilian harmony, the laughter sparked by some sections of its choreography suggests that multiple layers of meaning existed in this work, one of which stimulated concerns about the continued instability of Tibet in the wake of the 1959 uprising. Using anthropologist Mary Douglas’ theorization of jokes and joke rites, “Laundry Song” can be read as simultaneously disconcerting and comforting. Although it plays into a joke structure present in Maoist society, “Laundry Song” ultimately reinforces dominant ideas and thus is not a joke but a joke rite in Douglas’ terms.

Keywords:   China, Performance, Dance, Tibetan uprising, socialist culture, ethnic representation, military arts, PRC history, People’s Liberation Army, joke rite

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