Jiang Qing and the Visuality of the Revolutionary Model Opera Films in the Cultural Revolution

Wei Jiang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The Cultural Revolution (1966–76), which occurred 17 years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, saw the production of the filmic Revolutionary Model Operas or RMOs, comprised of eight films within this period. The RMOs, which were actually operas filmed in 35mm, precluded all other film genres during the period. Political factors, issues, and developments in the Cultural Revolution, especially in the early 1960s, contributed to and inflected these films: they became the predominant popular cultural form through which the Cultural Revolution, as a set of discursive regimes, was articulated. Mao Zedong believed that the Chinese Communist Party was departing from orthodox Marxism and needed to move rapidly from socialism to Communism through a continuous and intensive “proletarianization” of the consciousness of the Chinese people. He felt that Chinese social institutions and fields had been infiltrated by bourgeois elements, and this had caused China to deviate from socialism and take a capitalist orientation. Consequently, the film medium, considered a powerful propaganda tool, took on the role of the main ideological apparatus of the Cultural Revolution. The prime mover in this use of film was Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, who had been a film actress in Shanghai in the 1930s. She directly involved herself in the process of safeguarding the political stance of the film industry. Thus, in the Cultural Revolution, feature film production was suspended while only the so-called “eight RMOs” (“Ba da yangbanxi”) were filmed. Owing to the official denunciation of Jiang in the post-Mao era, her role in the productions of the RMO films was often overlooked by existing research. This article gives a historical reassessment of Jiang’s status and function by tracing her previous professional and political experiences in the circle of art and literature, and by exploring her dominant role in shaping the visuality of the RMO films.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)400-428
Number of pages29
JournalKritika Kultura
Issue number40
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cultural Revolution
  • Jiang Qing (Madame Mao)
  • Revolutionary Model Opera (RMO) films
  • Mass Culture
  • Visuality


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