Australian Values Alliance has condemned Arts Centre Melbourne’s programming The Red Detachment of Women.

Billed as “one of the most vivid cultural icons of the 20th century,” the Chinese ballet The Red Detachment of Women made its Australian premiere last night in Melbourne as part of AsiaTOPA. But not everyone is happy to see the Mao-era ballet hit Australian shores.

Protestors from the Australian Values Alliance gathered in Melbourne to condemn the 1964 ballet, which tells the story of a peasant girl who – following her abuse by a landowner – becomes a guerrilla and revolutionary.

“We are excited to be presenting this flagship production as one of our highlight programmes for the inaugural Asia TOPA,” said Claire Spencer, CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne when the performances were announced. “In the years since its debut, The Red Detachment of Women’s distinctive, colour-saturated aesthetic has found its way indelibly into Western mass culture to be amongst the most recognisable cultural works of the 20th century.”

The Australian Values Alliance (formerly the Embracing Australian Values Alliance) is a group started by members of the Australian Chinese community in 2016 after concerts celebrating Mao Zedong – scheduled for the 40th anniversary of the dictator’s death – were planned in Sydney and Melbourne.

The group launched a petition in October last year, calling on Victorian Premiere Daniel Andrews to cancel the performances of The Red Detachment of Women. The petition has since attracted more than 1000 signatures. “The red ballet is directly hostile to our national fundamental values on the ground that it is virtually an uncompromising attack on the freedom of thought, expression and arts, and it is inappropriate for any Australian governmental institute to sponsor such an attack against our main values and national identity,” the petition states. “The red ballet is one of the mass murderer Mao’s eight ‘Revolutionary Model Operas’ orchestrated by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing to brainwash civilians during the horror age of Culture Revolution, an event comparable to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.”

The Cultural Revolution, which spanned a decade from 1966 to 1976, saw millions persecuted in violent struggles across China as well as the destruction of cultural artefacts and widespread censorship. According to a statement from the Australian Values Alliance, the protest will continue for four days and will be attended by members of the Han, Tibetan and Uighar ethnic groups from Melbourne as well as protestors who will join from around the country.

“Freedom of expression is a foundation stone of a democratic society and a strong and vital arts community, as is the right for people to choose to experience art, or not – to speak out about it, or engage in debate and discussion about its merit or intent,” Arts Centre Melbourne said in a statement. “The Red Detachment of Women is a work of artistic, cultural and historical significance. Being an historical work, we acknowledge and respect that the Cultural Revolution was a terrible time for many Chinese people, and not least the intellectuals and artists that were directly impacted.”

“Whilst acknowledging that, Arts Centre Melbourne strongly believes in artistic freedom of expression and by presenting this work as part of Asia TOPA, we are providing audiences with a unique opportunity to experience an historic cultural work in an unfiltered manner.”

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