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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 20. 29th August 1973

Eastern Cultural Concert

Eastern Cultural Concert

Learn from the Labouring People

Learn from the Labouring People

The Memorial Theatre was packed with overseas students and New Zealanders of many races on August 21 for the only performance of the Eastern Cultural Concert.

Put on by members of the Otago University Chinese Language Club the aims of the concert were to present a realistic picture of the lives and struggles of the people of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, and to to develop friendship and understanding between overseas students and the New Zealand people. Opening the performance a member of the Chinese Language Club described previous cultural efforts by Malaysian students as "superficial and illusionary" and "no more than the culture of the feudal minority".

In songs and dances and short plays the students portrayed the suffering of people in Malaya, Singapore Sabah and Sarawak under the rule of the feudal minority and its overseas capitalist supporters. But throughout the performance it was emphasised that the ordinary people of these countries Were gradually realising that they could build a better society through united action and relying on their own efforts.

These feelings were, for example, brought out in the following verses of the song The Rajang River:

"The great Rajang River scans forwards with an unfurling span,

Once a virgin forest our ancestors came to open the land,

Rubber plantations swarm the hills by the river banks, Rustling chimes are vibrating where the magnificent forest stands.

"The great Rajang River marches onwards with mighty speed.

Leeching away our rich resources are the fleet of foreign ships,

The rubber plantations are turned into a sheet of barren beech.

The deep tropical forest is now an abandoned woody niche.

"The great Rajang River heads towards the distant horizon,

Gigantic waves surging sky-high charges forward to greet the vast ocean,

By the river bank there sparked a flame of salvation. That burns away the old society to rebuild a prosperous nation."

Photo of dancers

The real success of the concert was that the students were able to get the political message of their performance over to the audience in exciting and entertaining ways. One short piece satirised the life of a typical student who spent all his time burying himself in piles and piles of books. Three capitalists appeared to him in a dream, luring him with promises of financial gain and social status if he got a degree. In his dream the student achieves academic success but finds that it will not win him status or friends owing to selfishness and fierce competition among elites. The experience of his dream makes him realise that knowledge should serve the people, rather than the interests of the present rulers of society.

Another play dealt with the persecution of Singapore's hawkers by the courts, police and health authorities. The item ridiculed the way four hawkers were treated by the prosecution and the judge, and exposed the real nature of the so-called "democratic, prosperous and progressive People's Republic of Singapore". At the end of the play the four hawkers were sentenced to pay heavy fines for their "crime". But they were not cowed by this treatment, and defied the courts to the last.

Publicly presenting their view of the nature of society in Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarwak, even in the form of a cultural concert, was a courageous act on the part of the members of the Otago Chinese Language Club. There is no doubt that the members of the Malaysian ruling class would have been incensed by the performance which exposed the injustices of Malaysian society and proceded to ridicule the present order.

In view of the political importance and cultural value of the concert the only disappointment was that it was not seen by more overseas and New Zealand students. Hopefully the Otago Chinese Language Club will be able to do another tour of the country in the near future.

Drawing of Chinese characters and a Chinese man