Red Detachment of Women (Chinese: 红色娘子军, pinyin: Hóngsè Niángzǐjūn) is a Chinese ballet which premiered in 1964. It is perhaps best known in the West as the ballet performed for President Nixon on his visit to China in 1972. Based on the novel of the same title as well as the film adapted from the novel by Liang Xin, it depicts the liberation of a peasant girl in Hainan Island and her rise in the Communist Party. The ballet was later adapted to a Beijing opera, and as the ballet itself, both stage and film versions were produced.
The film version of the ballet made Xue Jinghua (as Wu Qinghua) and Liu Qingtang (as Hong Changqing) superstars along with a dozen other artists who were cast as protagonists in other model plays of the time.
It is one of the so-called eight model plays, the only plays, ballets and operas permitted in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). With The White Haired Girl it is regarded as a classic Chinese ballet, and its music is familiar to almost every Chinese person who grew up during that time. It was made into a film in 1972 and is now part of the permanent repertoire of the National Ballet of China.
Despite its political overtone and historical background when it was created, it remains a favorite of music and ballet lovers nearly 30 years after the Cultural Revolution in China. Many numbers were based on the folk songs of Hainan Island, a place that, with its coconut trees rustling in tropical wind, evokes much romantic ethos. Though there are unmistakable elements of Chinese music, the music of this ballet was performed with basically a Western symphony orchestra.
It was written as a collaboration, with music by Du Mingxin, Wu Zuqiang, Wang Yanqiao, Shi Wanchun and Dai Hongcheng, and choreography by Li Chengxiang, Jiang Zuhui and Wang Xixian.
The story was made into a movie in 1961, directed by Xie Jin, screenplay written by Liang Xin, and starred Zhu Xijuan, Wang Xin'gang, and Chen Qiang.