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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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Ma Ji’s “Ode to Friendship” and the Failures of Revolutionary Language

Ma Ji’s “Ode to Friendship” and the Failures of Revolutionary Language

(p.179) 10 Ma Ji’s “Ode to Friendship” and the Failures of Revolutionary Language
Maoist Laughter

Laurence Coderre

Hong Kong University Press

In 1973, China Records released a new xiangsheng, or “crosstalk”: “Ode to Friendship” (Youyisong), performed by Ma Ji (1934-2006) and Tang Jiezhong (1932-) of the Central Broadcasting Cultural Work Troupe. The piece showcased the People’s Republic of China’s current involvement in the building of the Tanzania-Zambia railroad, a project meant to free landlocked Zambia from its trade reliance on Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa. “Ode to Friendship” sought to promote this involvement by exploiting the problems of translation that necessarily manifest themselves in the actual practice of global socialist revolution. This chapter focuses on moments of translingual (Chinese-English and Chinese-Swahili) mismatch in “Ode to Friendship” as comically productive instances when language falls intentionally short of revolutionary ideals in the very name of revolution. I argue that the piece as a whole is an exercise in the careful negotiation, management, and instrumentalization of linguistic failure. As much as “Ode to Friendship” attempts to harness the power of nonsense and miscommunication, however, it also reminds us that even the language of socialist revolution has its limits.

Keywords:   Xiangsheng, Ma Ji, TAZARA, Nonsense, Third Worldism, Internationalism, Translation, Sino-African relations

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