+1 Recommend
1 collections

      If you have found this article useful and you think it is important that researchers across the world have access, please consider donating, to ensure that this valuable collection remains Open Access.

      Prometheus is published by Pluto Journals, an Open Access publisher. This means that everyone has free and unlimited access to the full-text of all articles from our international collection of social science journalsFurthermore Pluto Journals authors don’t pay article processing charges (APCs).

      • Record: found
      • Abstract: found
      • Article: found
      Is Open Access

      Cultural exploitation in Chinese politics: Reinterpreting Liu Sanjie

      Pluto Journals


            Liu Sanjie is a typical Chinese legendary figure, adapted from folk custom and transformed during many historical and political stages. By comparing the musical film Liu Sanjie with the landscape performing art Impression Liu Sanjie, this paper explores how Liu Sanjie is reconstructed in the Impression to be in accord with contemporary demands ( shidaixing). In the film, made during the 1960s, Liu Sanjie was promoted as a heroine fighting against the privileged classes, but in the Impression, her class struggle has been erased and only a harmonious and abstract legend remains. Her ethnicity is promoted by Han elites as not exclusive Zhuang, but shared equally with Han, Miao and Dong ethnicity in an imagined community to propagate a sense of ethnic harmony and unified Chineseness. Her transformation from a realistic character, full of a rebelling spirit, to an abstract and disembodied ‘sense of harmony’, is a complete reinterpretation of a Chinese historical legend. Utilizing a term from Wang Ban (1997), ‘the sublime figure of history’, which refers to an ideology aestheticized by the party state for securing its governance, this paper refers to the bold artistic treatment of Liu Sanjie for cultural exploitation as ‘Liu Sanjie's sublime’. The paper explores the evolutionary progress of Liu Sanjie from class revolution to art revolution in response to political requirements. The author is a stage-trained performing artist, specialized in both Western opera and Chinese classical and folk singing and dance. He is also a critic and art consultant in the Chinese landscape performing arts industry. These professional roles have allowed privileged access to the top people in this industry.


            Author and article information

            Pluto Journals
            1 June 2021
            : 37
            : 2 ( doiID: 10.13169/prometheus.37.issue-2 )
            : 111-136
            Department of Music, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
            © 2021 Pluto Journals

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

            Custom metadata

            Computer science,Arts,Social & Behavioral Sciences,Law,History,Economics


            1. Abrahams, R. (2014) ‘Tourism and the refiguration of host group identities: a case study of ethnic tourism in rural Guangxi, China’, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 13, 1, pp.39–55.

            2. Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London.

            3. Baranovitch, N. (2001) ‘Between alterity and identity: new voices of minority people’, Modern China, 27, 3, pp.359–401.

            4. Beiner, G. (2007) Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI, p.272.

            5. Chao, E. (2008) ‘Layered alterities: discourses of the other in Lijiang, China’, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, 34, 2, pp.101–20.

            6. Chao, J. (2019) ‘China's ancient past in its contemporary art: on the politics of time and nation branding at the Venice Biennale’, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, 6, 2–3, pp.321–41.

            7. Chen, E. (2004) ‘Zhang Yimou's hero and the temptations of fascism’, Film International, 2, 2, pp.14–23.

            8. Chen, Y. (2016) ‘Bursting with mountain songs: gender resistance and class struggle in Liu Sanjie’, Frontiers of History in China, 11, 1, pp.133–58.

            9. Chow, R. (1998) ‘Introduction: on Chineseness as a theoretical problem’, Boundary 2, 25, 3, pp.1–24.

            10. Chun, A. (1996) ‘Fuck Chineseness: on the ambiguities of ethnicity as culture as identity’, Boundary 2, 23, 2, pp.111–38.

            11. Dabringhaus, S. (2018) ‘Nationalism and minorities in China’, Oxford Research Encyclopedias. Available at https://oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.001.0001/acrefore-9780190277727-e-148 (accessed March 2019).

            12. Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus (trans. Massumi, B.), Athlone, London.

            13. Ding, Z. (2018) ‘There are about 3% of the total Chinese population in China having watched her artworks’, 中国每100个人就有3个人看过她的演出.每日经济新闻, available at http://www.nbd.com.cn/articles/2018-07-09/1233323.html (accessed June 2021).

            14. Du, C. (2015) ‘Manufacturing Naxi's original ecological culture in contemporary China’, Asian Ethnicity, 16, 4, pp.549–67.

            15. Eco, U. (1984) The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN.

            16. Ge, Z. (1960) ‘Better reflect the spirit of our times: regional party propaganda minister Ge Zhen's speech at the Liu Sanjie festival conference, abstract’, Guangxi Ribao (Guangxi Daily), 12 April, 《更好地反映我们的时代精神——区党委宣传部长葛震在全区“刘三姐”会演大会 上的讲话(摘要)》,《广西日报》,1960 年 4 月 12 日第四版

            17. Gong, Q. (2017) ‘The red sister-in-law remakes: redefining the “fish-and-water” relationships for the era of reform and opening’ in Roberts, R. and Li, L. (eds) The Making and Remaking of China's ‘Red Classics’: Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, pp.156–76.

            18. Guo, X. (2008) State and Ethnicity in China's Southwest, Brill, Leiden.

            19. He, C. (2012) ‘The ambiguities of Chineseness and the dispute over the “homecoming” of Turandot’, Comparative Literature Studies, 49, 4, pp.547–64.

            20. Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T. (1983) The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

            21. Holt, F. (2010) ‘The economy of live music in the digital age’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 13, 2, pp.243–61.

            22. Hu, H. (2012) Chinese-style Fantasy Landscape, 中国山水实景演出狂想. 桂林: 广西师范大学出 版社, Guangxi Normal University Press, Guilin.

            23. Impression Liu Sanjie (2016) ‘Zhang Yimou states that “it is a show”. Then, what is it trying to show?‘, 张艺谋说它就是一场“秀”!那么,它到底在秀什么, Impression Liu Sanjie's official WeChat website, available at https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/CJEX5ZT23P1GbsoL7TTLYQ (accessed December 2020).

            24. Kaup, K. (2000) Creating the Zhuang: Ethnic Politics in China, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO.

            25. Keyes, C. (2002) ‘The peoples of Asia – science and politics in the classification of ethnic groups in Thailand, China, and Vietnam’, Journal of Asian Studies, 61, 4, pp.1163–1203.

            26. Kraus, R. (1999) ‘Review of The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China‘, China Review International, 6, 2, pp.544–6.

            27. Lee, J. and Yoon, H. (2017) ‘Narratives of the nation in the Olympic opening ceremonies: comparative analysis of Beijing 2008 and London 2012‘, Nations and Nationalism, 23, 4, pp.952–69.

            28. Li, C. (2009) ‘On the development of the PRC's cultural and creative industry: take Guilin “Impression Sanjie Liu” for example’, 中国文化创意产业发展之研究-以桂林《印象刘三姐》为例, unpublished master's thesis, Nanhua University, Dailin, Taiwan.

            29. Li, W. (2009) Research into Financial Policy in China's Cultural Industry Development, 中国文化 产业发展的财政与金融政策研, China Finance and Economics Press, Beijing.

            30. Li, Z. (1981) Stages on the Way to Beauty, 美的历程, Wenwu Press, Beijing.

            31. Li, Z and Liu. G. (1987) A History of Chinese Aesthetic, 中国美学史, vols 1–2, China Social Science Press, Beijing.

            32. Liang, Z. (2009) ‘“Liu Sanjie” and the changes and shapings of ethnic culture in Lingnan of China’, Journal of Cambridge Studies, 4, 2, pp. 37–54.

            33. Lin, D. (2004) ‘Guangxi ethnic culture: cultural wind of Yangshuo at East Street’, 西民族民间文化 系列之东街再刮阳朔民俗文化风, available at http://www.gxnews.com.cn/staticpages/20040808/newgx41154bd7-230542.shtml (accessed November 2019).

            34. Lin, X. (2018) ‘Ce.cn's observation: selling Impression Liu Sanjie‘, 中经观察:《印象·刘三 姐》“卖身记, available at http://www.ce.cn/culture/gd/201801/25/t20180125_27894971.shtml (accessed August 2020).

            35. Liu, L. (2003) ‘A folk song immortal and official popular culture’ in Zeitlin, J., Liu, L. and Widmer, E. (eds) Materiality in China: Essays in Honor of Patrick Hanan, Harvard University Asia Centre, Cambridge MA, pp.553–609.

            36. Lu, X. (2018) ‘Lun tay shi nong: ethnic identity and folksong genres among Zhuang people in the Sino-Vietnamese border areas’, paper presented at the workshop on grassroots musical resilience in southwestern China, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, August, available at https://www.sydney.edu.au/content/dam/corporate/documents/sydney-conservatorium-of-music/research/2018_Grassroots%20Musical%20Resilience%20in%20Southwestern%20China.pdf (accessed February 2021).

            37. Macdonald, S. (2016) ‘Milking the myth: innovation funding in theory and practice’, R&D Management, 46, S2, pp.552–63.

            38. Mair, V. (1994) The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, Columbia University Press, New York.

            39. Mao, Z. (1996) ‘Talks at the Yan'an forum on literature and art’ in Denton, K. (ed.) Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writing on Literature 1893–1945, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, pp.458–84.

            40. McCormick, C. and White, K. (2011) Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara CA.

            41. McDougall, B. (1984) Popular Chinese Literature and Performing Arts in the People's Republic of China, 1949–1979, University of California Press, Berkeley CA.

            42. O'Meara, R. (2018) ‘Inventing rituals: cultural politics in Zhang Yimou's historical films‘, Senses of Cinema, 88, available at http://sensesofcinema.com/2018/feature-papers/zhang-yimou-culturalpolitics (accessed February 2010).

            43. Ping, F. (2009) ‘The historical change and modern construction of Liu Sanjie’, 刘三姐形象的历史 嬗变与现代建构, Research on Drama, 4, available at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/41451462.pdf (accessed June 2021).

            44. Qian, R. (2016) ‘Celebrity economy set for explosive growth in China’, Ecns.cn (China News Service), available at http://www.ecns.cn/business/2016/03-16/203077.shtml (accessed January 2021).

            45. Qiu, J. (2007) Sustainable Development of Tourism, World Tourism Organization, Madrid.

            46. Quah, S. (2004) Gao Xingjian and Transcultural Chinese Theatre, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

            47. Redmond, S. (2017) Liquid Space: Science Fiction Film and Television in the Digital Age, I. B. Tauris, London.

            48. Ryabinin Y. (2017) ‘The basic causes of the temporary separatism’, Journal of Geography, Politics and Society, 7, 1, pp.5–9.

            49. Sautman, B. (2014) ‘Self-representation and ethnic minority rights in China’, Asian Ethnicity, 15, 2, pp.174–96.

            50. Sheppard, W. (2010) ‘Tan Dun and Zhang Yimou between film and opera’, Journal of Musicological Research, 29, 1, pp.1–33.

            51. Sun, Q. (2005) The Construction of Communist Party's Advancement and the Exercise of Communist Member's Party Spirit, 党的先进性建设与党员党性锻炼, Party School of the CPC Central Committee Press, Beijing, p.8, available at https://xueshu.baidu.com/usercenter/paper/show?paperid=3d070a1debd76ea82afc8aef27897ac9 (accessed June 2021).

            52. Tan, D. (2017) ‘Historical memories and the construction of Liu Sanjie's multi-cultural image’, 历史记忆与“刘三姐”多重文化意象的建构, Folk-Custom Research, available at http://www.cqvip.com/qk/83439x/201705/673142484.html (accessed November 2020).

            53. Tang, X. (2018) ‘It is like a breeze, rediscovering the classic in mountain songs: a review of the Liu Sanjie opera premiering in Beijing’, 恰如一阵清风来 山歌再现新经典—新版歌剧《刘三姐》首次进京演出观感-中国民族网, available at http://www.56-china.com.cn/show-case-1857.html (accessed August 2020).

            54. Taunay, B. (2008) ‘Le développement touristique de deux sites chinois “incontournables”: Beihai et Guilin (Guangxi)‘, Articulo (Journal of Urban Research), 4, available at https://journals.openedition.org/articulo/429 (accessed February 2010).

            55. U, E. (2010) ‘Third sister Liu and the making of the intellectual in socialist China’, Journal of Asian Studies, 69, 1, pp.57–83.

            56. Wang, B. (1997) The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA.

            57. Wang, B. and Meng, X. (2008) The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China. 历史的崇高形象:二十世纪中国的美学与政治, Shanghai Sanlian Press, Shanghai.

            58. Wang, C. (2015) ‘The stage arts spanning time and space’, Cultural Focus, 王潮歌 跨越时空 的舞台艺术, 文化视点, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N_z0iw8k6A&t=414s (accessed January 2021).

            59. Wang, D. (2009) ‘What is implied by Liu Sanjie becoming a shining brand of Guangxi?‘, “刘三姐” 成为广西的闪亮名片说明了什么, available at http://cpc.people.com.cn/GB/165240/166030/166031/166044/9852015.html (accessed November 2019).

            60. Wang, Q. (2017) ‘From pan-class struggle to de-class struggle: the rise and decline of class discourse‘, 从“泛阶级化”到“去阶级化”:阶级话语在中国的兴衰, Suqu Research, 1, 4, available at http://www.cqvip.com/qk/71952x/201704/673086650.html (accessed June 2021).

            61. Wang, Z. (2019) ‘Contemporaneity of Xi Jinping's thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era’, 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想的鲜明时代性, Qstheory.cn, available at http://www.qstheory.cn/llwx/2019-09/27/c_1125046675.htm (accessed January 2021).

            62. Wu, D. (1990) ‘Chinese minority policy and the meaning of minority culture: the example of Bai in Yunnan, China’, Human Organization, 49, 1, pp.1–13.

            63. Wu, J. (2016) ‘Ethnic tourism and the big song: public pedagogies and the ambiguity of environmental discourse in southwest China’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49, 5, pp.480–500.

            64. Wu, X. (2010) ‘The performance of touristic landscape and the consumption of folk art’, 旅游景观 展演与民间艺术的消费, Contention of Art and Literature Journal, 1, 4, p.128, available at https://www.cnki.com.cn/Article/CJFDTotal-MZYS201004010.htm (accessed June 2021).

            65. Xian, Y. (2009) ‘The cultural transformation of Tianjiahe Village in Impression Liu Sanjie‘, 田家 河村在《印象刘三姐》中的文化转型, unpublished master's thesis, South-Central University for Nationalities, Wuhan.

            66. Xiang, W. and Bachimon, P. (2018) ‘The Chinese mountains as a night-time stage: a study of the sound and light show impressions of Liu Sanjie (Guilin, Guangxi region)‘, Journal of Alpine Research, 106, 1, available at https://journals.openedition.org/rga/3992 (accessed January 2021).

            67. Xiao, C. (2006) ‘The chief actress in Zhang Yimou's Impression Liu Sanjie: “No regret to be naked”‘, 张艺谋“印象”剧中女主角:不后悔全裸出镜/图_资讯_凤凰新媒体, Ifeng.com, available at http://news.ifeng.com/society/200611/1109_20_30469_1.shtml (accessed August 2020).

            68. Xie, J. (2020) ‘From mountain-songs to branding: the construction of classics related to the Liu Sanjie phenomenon’, 从民歌到名片“刘三姐现象”的经典建构. Ethnic Art, 1, 5, pp.55–64, available at https://www.cnki.com.cn/Article/CJFDTotal-MZYS202005008.htm (accessed June 2021).

            69. Yan, G. and Santos, C. (2009) ‘“CHINA FOREVER”: tourism discourse and self-orientalism’, Annals of Tourism Research, 36, 2, pp.295–315.

            70. Yang, B. (2008) ‘Central state, local governments, ethnic groups and the Minzu identification in Yunnan (1950s–1980s)‘, Modern Asian Studies, 43, 3, pp.741–75.

            71. Yang, Q. (2013) ‘Promoting Liu Sanjie as a Chinese version of the Moulin Rouge’, 印象·刘三 姐》打造百年中国版“红磨坊, available at http://www.chinanews.com/cul/2013/07-27/5091699.shtml (accessed January 2021).

            72. Yangshuo Annals Commission (1988) Yangshou County History, Guangxi People's Publishing House, Nanning, China, p.411, available at https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/%E9%99%BD%E6%9C%94%E7%B8%A3%E8%AA%8C/Y78nAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0&bsq=%E9%98%B3%E6%9C%94%20%E5%B0%91%E6%95%B0%E6%B0%91%E6%97%8F%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3 (accessed June 2021).

            73. Yao, W. (2012) ‘Approaching Chineseness: investigating the cultural transfer of behavioural factors in and through Chinese industrial design’, unpublished PhD thesis, Royal College of Art, London, available at https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/1695/1/PhD%20Thesis_Wenjin%20Yao.pdf (accessed February 2021).

            74. Ye, T. (1999) ‘From the fifth to the sixth generation: an interview with Zhang Yimou’, Film Quarterly, 53, 2, pp.2–13.

            75. Zhang, X. (2016) ‘Wang Chaoge: “tourism” is not a positive term’, 王潮歌:旅游本身就不是个好词-中 国经济新闻联播, available at https://travel.ifeng.com/news/interview/detail_2014_09/10/38716211_0.shtml (accessed June 2021).

            76. Zhang, Z. and Schaffrath, H. (1991) ‘China's mountain songs’, Chime Journal, 4, pp.23–33.


            Comment on this article