Born in 1950, Jiang Kun is a very famous xiang sheng master who cut his teeth on stage during the 1970s. Xiang sheng is a Chinese form of “talk show” which involves two people in a dramatic, witty and humourous exchange.
In the following performances dated 1995, Jiang Kun and his partner on stage Li Jian Hua performed a series of satirical xiang sheng skits poking fun at the madness and absurdity of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution (1967-1976). As you can see, the audience was tickled and entertained.
Fast forward to the present, a talk show actor House Li has been arrested for “insulting the People’s Liberation Army”. A woman who defended him on social media had also been arrested. Some had suggested that the members of the audience who laughed should also be arrested. House had merely said that a couple of wild dogs he had adopted were emulating values of the PLA.
Could the currently retired Mr Jiang have ever imagined that his performance in 1995 would have gotten him into a lot more trouble than House did if he had performed it today? Back to 1960s and early 1970s.
I can think of a science fiction story. Imagine the duo performing their satirical xiang sheng on stage in 1995. Then somebody hits a dial on a time machine and everything around them is transported back to 1970. Red Guards storm the theatre and arrest everyone as 反革命。The two actors are paraded on the streets. Everyone throws rubbish at them. Those who don’t are arrested as “sympathisers”. Then, they manage to escape from their captors, sneak back into the theatre, find the time machine and try to dial it back to 1995. But the the dial is stuck. They use too much force and send themselves into the future in 2024.
The audience is applauding. They are relieved. It’s 2024, so China must be even freer and more open than in 1995. They continue their performance, only to be arrested again.