Will Oxford University Start Smashing Pianos as Communist China Did?
World-renowned violinist Isaac Stern arrived in Shanghai to give a recital shortly after Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution ended in 1976.
No one could find a playable piano in all of the city. All 500 pianos at the city's conservatory had been smashed by frenzied Maoist revolutionists determined to eradicate the influence of Western music.
Those familiar with the excesses of Maoist China should note with growing alarm that ideas similar to those foundational to Mao's Cultural Revolution have found their way into the music department of Oxford University.
Oxford music professors, encouraged by BLM representatives to repudiate what is deemed white supremacism characterized by classical Western music, have targeted the university's traditional focus on irredeemably "colonialist" composers such as Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.
As the Post Millennial magazine reports, the wish is to de-emphasize the curriculum's emphasis on white composers. But that is not all that is to be scrapped in order to accommodate the offended.
Significantly, the piano once again has been singled out as an obnoxious symbol of Western oppression.
Members of the music department propose that students not be required to learn to play the piano or conduct orchestras, as those practices are centered on white European music and cause "students of colour great distress." Even the way music is taught, some complain, is a problem because the "vast bulk of tutors for techniques are white men."
Oxford will discover that it will not be enough to trash Western music because more often than not, it has been composed and conducted by white men. The demands of ideological barbarism known as cultural Marxism coupled with Critical Race Theory will doubtless soon affect other disciplines. Soon the demand will be that the entire university, which currently is rated as the best university in the world, be completely restructured, as it is deemed inherently infected by Western "whiteness."
In like manner, leaders of Mao Zedong's "Cultural Revolution" sought to root out all Western influence, including Western music, in order for the new communist order to be established. Violins were smashed along with the fingers of those who played those instruments. New cultural forms such as Madame Mao's infamous military ballets substituted for Western ballets and Chinese opera as the people's art.
The goal, as Mao himself advocated, was the complete reform of university education, including the arts.
As the BBC noted, the piano was targeted as the primary symbol of the corrupt West. "During the Cultural Revolution four decades ago, the piano was seen as the most dangerous of all Western instruments. It was once described as being akin to a coffin, a black box in which the notes rattled around like the bones of the bourgeoisie."
World-renowned pianist Liu Shih Kun was subjected to struggle sessions. "Because of his travels abroad, because he had shaken hands with Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev, because he played Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, he was labelled a 'counter-revolutionary revisionist[.]' ... He was made to clean the toilets at the Central Conservatory of Music and forced to serve six years in Beijing's Taicheng prison, just about managing to keep his strength up by augmenting his daily two bowls of brine with worms culled from rotting vegetables."
The destruction of Western music in China did not go on without protest.
As Sarah Spencer Rawley has noted in her work Musical Defiance in Maoist China, He Luting, who along with Liu Shih Kun was singled out as a counter-revolutionary, was a promoter of Western music. A respected professor and the head of the Shanghai Academy of Music, he was subjected to interrogation and torture. His love and defense of Debussy was considered particularly reprehensible, as the French composer's music was seen as inimical to the "Four Olds" opposed by the Maoist revolution: old culture, old customs, old habits, and old ways of thinking.
But He Luting, whose struggle session was televised as an instructive lesson for the masses, did not bow to the totalitarian pressure of the Gang of Four. He stood up for the irreducible and authentic beauty of Western music.
Is there someone like He Luting within the Oxford music department?
Is there a professor who will defend what Franz Schubert thought of as "du holde kunst," the art that lifted him from grey hours of depression into the realms of a better world?
Will someone defend Mozart, to whom theologian Karl Barth wrote a letter, saying, "Whenever I listen to you, I am transported to the threshold of a world which in sunlight and storm by day and by night, is a good and ordered world ... I believe in a world of growing darkness our age needs your help"?
Barth echoed Kierkegaard, Goethe, and many others, who, when hearing Mozart's music, felt that it "evidently comes from on high."
Those who properly hear Mozart's music believe that it echoes what is foundational to the universe itself. As the author of the book of Job relates, music was there when God created the cosmos: "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy."
Can we not see darkness and ignorance gathering force when at the finest university in the world, Mozart and the soaring edifice that is Western music are gravely imperiled? Can we not see that music is sent from on high to help us, to give us an intimation of paradise that takes us beyond what Dante called the "festering little threshing floor which by its very petty scale incites humanity's ferocity"?
Or will academia empower the destruction of the towering accomplishment that is Western music?
Oxford must decide.
As the gathering darkness of Mao's cultural revolution gradually descended on China, my friend and colleague Samuel Hsu and his family emigrated to America. At age nine, Sam was a student at Shanghai Conservatory and at fifteen played Grieg's piano concerto with the Hong Kong orchestra. Sam, whose Chinese name means "One who builds up the Light," was a gifted pianist and a polymath. I was fortunate enough to have him accompany me in several recitals. After his sudden death, I was asked to sing his favorite Strauss lied at his memorial service.
Sam, who loved Debussy's music, returned to China in 2007 along with violinist Xiao-Fu Zhou, where Sam presented a homecoming recital at the Shanghai Conservatory. There was a first-rate piano waiting for him to bring the light of Western music to an appreciative audience.
Today, one can only wonder if he would be welcome to play his beloved Debussy at Oxford University.
Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the prize for excellence in systematic theology. She is a classically trained soprano. Her thoughts have appeared in many online magazines. She has been a regular contributor to American thinker for a decade and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Pikrepo.
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