"The Red Detachment of Women" was a movie produced in 1961. It won the best script, best director and best actress awards. A few years later, during the cultural revolution, Mao's wife Jiang Qing, who was Minister in charge of cultural affairs, instructed her subordinates to create a ballet based on the film. As it was one of only eight revolutionnary model theatrical performances authorized, the ballet became quite famous.
The story takes place in Hainan Island during the 1930's. It is about a slave woman named Qiong Hua (dancer on the left in the poster) who flees her oppressive landlord, and joins the communist revolutionaries. After training and fighting she becomes a warrior of the Red Detachment of Women. It was inspired by a true story, where in 1931, 100 women from Hainan Island formed a combat unit to fight feudalism.
This ballet, frequently performed in today's China, is an very impressive colorful spectacle, a must-see for those interested by the cultural revolution period. Viewing it will give you a copious share of the Maoist propaganda at its best, with loads of heroism and sacrifice, class struggle and socialist brotherhood. You will probably find the musical score quite memorable. However, the artistic qualities of the choregraphy itself are debatable. Finally, let's not be prudes, and bet that most men will enjoy watching young female warriors wearing Bermuda shorts.
I saw the Red Detachment of Women two years ago in Shenzhen city, performed by the National Ballet of China. Costumes and backgrounds were very similar to those of the original performance. I was invited by a high ranking city hall official, obviously eager to present to a foreigner this monument of China's post-revolutionary culture. As the curtain rose, and unveiled a particularly stunning scene (the Red Detachment walking in a parade), I was surprised by an enthusiastic and proud expression on her charming face. Even blasé party communist members are moved by the Red Detachment of Women.