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Rise and fall of a British singer in China’s volatile red song campaign

(Global Times)

09:05, May 10, 2013

Iain Inglis stands in his room dedicated to Communist memorabilia. Photo: Courtesy of Iain Inglis

Between his British accent and fluent Chinese, Iain Inglis, the nearly 35-year-old freelancer in tropical Sanya, Hainan Province, told the story of how he experienced the ups and downs along with China's political changes after becoming known as a "Red Song Talent" on popular television shows.

Dressed in a Chinese Red Army uniform and holding a copy of Mao's Little Red Book, Inglis first glimpsed fame during a local television competition between expats in November 2004 in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, while working as an English teacher.

His Chinese was already quite good, which helped him to pronounce the lyrics clearly as he mimicked marching gestures with one arm in front of his chest and the other swinging backwards.

His status as a red song performer reached a new level after he joined China's Red Song Competition, a contest held by a Jiangxi provincial television station in 2010. After the broadcast, Inglis began to receive invitations to perform from local authorities within the province, one of the cradles of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

His fame soared to new heights when he was dubbed a "Red Song Talent" on China's Got Talent in 2012 in Shanghai. That October, he was invited onto a China Central Television program devoted to finding the country's next rising stars for the Spring Festival Gala, the biggest family television event in China.

However, these sparkling moments on China's top entertainment shows were probably the peak of his red song career. His bright future was already beginning to fade after Chongqing leader Bo Xilai was sacked in a political scandal in early 2012. The nation's red song campaign, which was red hot in Chongqing because of Bo, cooled down abruptly. Shows were canceled, and the number of invitations Inglis received dwindled.

After quitting his job at a hotel in Yalong Bay, Sanya, he currently works as a freelancer making tourism promotion videos. He plans to establish an English language training school one day, but for now, he holds on to the memories of his red song performances and keeps a room for his collection of Socialist memorabilia.

Red songs chose me

The first Chinese red song Inglis learned was "Socialism Is Good," from a VCD he purchased during a vacation in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in the summer of 2003 before he moved to China.

"At that time, I didn't know the term 'red song,' but I tried my best with Chinese to explain to the CD shop owner that I wanted songs on Socialism. She somehow understood and pointed out three CDs to me. I randomly picked one, and 'Socialism is Good' was carved in my mind because the rhythm is simple and repetitive," Inglis told the Global Times.

But this is not the first red song he came to know. He first learned a red song from the Soviet Union with his Russian teacher in his hometown of Cardiff when he was 15 years old.

"Red songs chose me. I can not only learn language through them, but history. I'm not a professional singer. To be honest, I'm a bad one, but I perform red songs because of my interest in Communism," Inglis said. "Historically, they have made quite significant achievements."

Over time, he admits, singing red songs became more than just a hobby as the performances brought him money, though not a huge fortune.

"Once I got 50,000 yuan ($8,120), but only once. I didn't make a fortune doing this," he explained.

Singing monkey?

In the video footage of Inglis' past performances, audiences can be seen clapping and laughing, some even dancing along to the rhythm of the music. But the man in the spotlight was also the target of criticism, which upset his Chinese wife.

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