2016 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


From Innocence to Knowing Better:
Cheng Yanqiu and the Chinese Communist Party

Miin-ling Yu

Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

This article uses the Peking Opera master, Cheng Yanqiu (1904-1958), as a case study to analyze the changes in his attitudes toward politics before and after 1949. Before 1949 Cheng Yanqiu only focused on stage performances and on improving Peking Opera. He did not actively participate in political activities and knew almost nothing about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, he was the first truly famous Peking Opera actor to join the Party. In the 1950s and even today many people considered that he possessed high “political consciousness.” It is an intriguing question why a person who had no interest in politics before 1949 suddenly became actively involved in political activities under Mao’s regime. This article illustrates the factors that contributed to Cheng’s good impression of the CCP and his gradual disillusionment, as well as his bottom line when art and politics ran into conflict. The Party’s call for Chinese opera reform attracted Cheng Yanqiu very much. Unfortunately, he had misconceptions about the reform and the Party. Both Cheng and the CCP used the same term, but the spirit, the means, and the final goals of “reform” were very different. Also, this article explores the CCP’s united front policy, which was instrumental in winning over important figures such as Cheng Yanqiu. In order to carry out its united front policy, the CCP could use very soft and tough strategies at the same time. In the end, those drawn into the united front were expected to surrender to the will and to the leadership of the CCP. This has been the ultimate goal of the party’s united front policies.


Keywords: Cheng Yanqiu, Chinese opera reform, Unicorn Purse, united front, art and politics