Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 02: The question of “modernism” in Chinese dance
The topic of “modernism” appeared to be one in which the 2013 ArtsCross academics were keenly interested. Since 2011, when it was listed as a topic of discussion at the Taipei “ArtsCross” until today, academics have remained interested in this topic. Given the continued interest of observers in the topic, it seems that this truly is a very attractive area.
In reality, mainland Chinese academics have been familiar with the question of “modernism” for a long time, and have already explored the question quite thoroughly. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that almost all of the ideas which have appeared in the realm of Chinese academia have been inspired by outward influences. Naturally, “modernism” is no exception. But while the “concept” originates from outside China, Chinese society contains many of its own conundrums, which are directly linked to this concept.
In the world of dance, there is no lack of discussion around “modernism”. The newspaper Chinese Dance has organised a number of discussions on this topic. What is more, the views of various young scholars of dance have attracted a lot of attention. Generally speaking, a number of the issues which we encounter are almost binary oppositions, for example: “Chinese and Western,” “traditional and modern,” “form and meaning”, etc.
When we talk about “modernism”, it is natural to think about the issue of “modernisation”. What is more, “modernisation” can provide a direct linkage to “modern dance.” But if we think that “modernism” is only about “modern dance”, then our understanding of the issue has shifted. Without doubt, “modern dance” is naturally connected to the concept of “modernism”. However, the areas which fall within the ambit of “modernism” need to be discussed at a more
In reality, Chinese contemporary dance culture is inherently “modernist” since, whether at the level of form or at the level of meaning, traditional Chinese dance forms have not been directly handed down from the past. Lu Yisheng considers that this constitutes a “rupture” between Chinese contemporary dance and traditional dance. The painter Chen Danqing has expressed the view that the New Culture Movement which came in the wake of the May 4th Movement is a manifestation of “cultural radicalism.” While it is not fair to lay blame for the rupture with ancient dance at the feet of the May 4th Movement, it does seem that this Movement was a kind of watershed, and the new forms of Chinese dance which developed following this movement were imbued with inspiration from Western culture from the industrial age. So Chinese contemporary dance, having been cut off from its “roots” and having experienced many ‘dislocations’ and ‘realignments’ with society, possesses a rich streak of “modernism.” Within this conceptual framework, and against the context of the systematic changes which have taken place in China including the cultural revolution and economic globalisation, Chinese dance, while always undertaking cultural course corrections, has faced many perplexing situations, all of which can be understood and considered through the language of “modernism”. Thus, it may be that the concept of “modernism” may provide us with a kind of key, since it provides us with a unique perspective on the many issues that we are faced with today.
Mainland Chinese dance culture has been developing for over 60 years now, and while it has encountered many of the challenges brought by “modernism”, it has not faded away, and continues onwards stubbornly. This demonstrates one of the characteristics of Chinese culture: it can always keep going. So, faced with such a highly developed “organism”, and an environment which allows this “organism” to continue to develop, is there anything we can do to provide more “nourishment” to thinking around “modernism”? Let’s wait and see.