Performing socialist Hungary in China: ‘modern, Magyar, European’

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This paper reconstructs the ways in which the Hungarian People’s Army Performing Arts Ensemble arranged its repertoire to perform socialist Hungary in the autumn of 1956, during the Ensemble’s tour in the People’s Republic of China. The paper performs a close reading of a single archival document, the program of the Ensemble’s début performance before non-European socialist audiences that took place in Shenyang on September 21, 1956. The repertoire featured a simple chronological, quasi-historical overview of musical and dance traditions from Hungary. It offered a vague, highly stylized set of references to Hungary’s military traditions. It attempted to realize the triple formula of a new, ‘modern, Magyar, European,’ art form, and foregrounded a plebian (‘peasant-‘) progressive-patriotic theme with hints of ethnic nationalism. The program provided the absolute minimum of the standard Stalinist fare, resolutely avoided any reference to the USSR or Russia, and, most fascinating, closed with a self-ironical dance piece featuring a powerful allegorical story of socialism with a ‘Hungarian face,’ something that represented a resolute break with the Stalinist aesthetic canon and reinforced the group’s political commitment to a socialism that is ‘modern, Magyar and European.’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-274
Number of pages18
JournalCold War History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • China
  • Close reading
  • Europe
  • Hungary
  • Modernity
  • Performing arts
  • Repertoire
  • Stalinism


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