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1920s’ Anyuan theater

Comparison with 1920s Anyuan theater
As we have seen, most parts of “World Factory” were pedagogical. Various actors assumed teaching roles and informed the audience of the history of industrialization and labor movements, and the working condition in today’s factories. Pedagogical theater is not new. Now, let’s go back in history
and revisit an episode in the early 1920s: the workers’ theater organized by young communists in Anyuan.
Anyuan was the center of Pingxiang coal mine region. A mining company was set up in 1898. By 1911, it had become the largest Chinese-owned coal mine in the country, employing over ten thousand miners and over a thousand railway workers. The majority were migrant workers recruited from the neighboring Hunan province.
In the fall of 1921, right after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong visited Anyuan. He made contact with the miners, and then sent 22-year-old Li Lisan, who had just returned from France, to Anyuan to establish a school for the workers. The following May, Anyuan Workers’ Club was founded, and functioned as a de facto workers’ union. In September, a general strike was orchestrated by Li Lisan and Liu Shaoqi, who was sent to Anyuan upon his return from studies in the Soviet Union. The strike was highly organized and effective. After five days, it ended with nearly all of the workers’ demands satisfied by the management. Workers’ wages were immediately raised, by as much as 50%.
More importantly, the management agreed to provide a monthly subsidy of 1,100 yuan to the workers’ club, a significant amount given that a miner’s salary at the time was 5 yuan per month. The workers’ club moved into a newly-renovated four-storey building. The main hall, modeled on the Bolshoi theater in Moscow, could seat more than 2,000 people. Between 1922 and 1925, an impressive array of educational and cultural activities were organized by the club to impress on the workers basic tenets of Marxism and cultivate a collective class consciousness.
One form of activity, known as “costume lecture,” was especially popular. According to Elizabeth Perry, “The workers’ club oversaw the writing and staging of thirty-one ‘costume lectures,’ a hybrid form of didactic entertainment that was part drama and part lecture. With moralistic titles such as ‘The Road to Awakening,’ ‘The Evils of Prostitution and Gambling,’ ‘The Patriotic Bandit,’ and ‘Our Victory,’ the costume lectures were presented in the evening performances in the workers’ club auditorium to enthusiastic audiences numbering a thousand or more.”
An article on Pingxiang Communist Party’s website, titled “Costume Lectures Showing Magical Results,”
details one performance vividly: “One day, after learning that lectures were going to be delivered at the club, workers gathered in the auditorium excitedly, packing all three floors. Silence filled the hall as the workers waited for the lecture to begin. Comrade Xiao Jinguang was supposed to be the speaker, but at this critical moment, he was nowhere to be seen. Comrades in the lecture department anxiously tried to locate him. Workers in the auditorium became agitated. Suddenly, a man wearing a warlord uniform appeared on the stage, chasing and beating a worker. The auditorium instantly exploded, like water dropped in hot oil. Workers were infuriated. Many raised their fists, and started to curse the warlord. At this moment, the ‘warlord’ took off his hat
and addressed the audience in a heroic voice: ‘Comrades, brothers,
the warlords have brought us so much pain: endless wars, battles everywhere, pillaging and raping, exorbitant taxes and levies. We are suffering, and they are reveling.’ On hearing this, workers wondered, ‘How come the warlord is speaking for us?’
The man on the stage continued: ‘Now some warlords are butchering our fellow workers, cracking down on them without mercy. What should we do? Should we fight for freedom, even if death awaits? Or kneel down before their terror, begging for life?’
All the workers raised their angry fists, shouting: ‘Down with the Warlords!’ ‘Long Live the Proletariat!’ ‘Fight for Freedom! Never Beg to Live!’ The lecture ended with these thunderous slogans. When the speaker took off his costume, people realized that he was actually Xiao Jinguang!”
Xiao Jinguang, the head of the entertainment department of the workers’ club, was also a young Communist returnee from the Soviet Union. Later he would become one of the leaders of the Red Army, and after 1949 the Commander of the Chinese Navy.
Even the Nationalists acknowledged the effectiveness of “Red education”
conducted by the workers’ club: “Their form of education for Anyuan workers was completely inspirational, like colorful and exotic magic, educating common workers, so as to trap them, poison them, without their notice!”

Pedagogical theater is not new. Let’s go back in history and revisit an episode in the early 1920s: the workers’ theater organized by young communists in Anyuan.

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