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China Shuts Down Notorious Army Song-And-Dance Troupe

China's First Lady Peng Liyuan singing in 2009
China's First Lady Peng Liyuan singing in 2009

Chinese President Xi Jinping's glamorous singer wife Peng Liyuan used to perform with them. But so too did less reputable women, including several who became the center of public scandals. Now, after more than six decades of service, the Chinese People's Liberation Song and Dance Troupe has been disbanded, reports Taiwanese newspaper China Times.

Founded in 1953, the troupe's main mission was to boost PRC army morale and entertain the Chinese public with propaganda songs touting the Communist Party. But it was revealed in recent years that some of its top stars lived in villas and drove luxurious cars, which contrasted with the lifestyle and salaries of ordinary military officials.

One singer in particular achieved notoriety. Tang Can, a singer from the central province of Hubei, joined the troupe only to help it gain a reputation as a breeding ground for corruption and debauchery. Her name was linked with Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the Chinese security apparatus, who became the first Politburo Standing Committee member since the founding of the People's Republic of China to be tried and convicted on corruption-related charges. Known as the "military enchantress", Tang has since disappeared from view.

According to New York-based Chinese-language NTDTV channel, the troupe's dissolution is partly due to Xi's plan to downsize the army, but is also meant as a response to some female members' involvement in "improper relationships" or dealings with corrupt officials and businessmen. Some referred to the song-and-dance outfit as a "harem" for high officials that supplied party bigwigs with "warm beds."

NTDTV said that it was not at all surprising that this very public stage of the People's Liberation Army became the first target of President Xi's military reform, which is said to include the reduction of some 300,000 non-combat military personnel.

China's current First Lady Peng Liyuan has long been a popular national singer, and once a member of the troupe early in her career. She later served as the commander of the troupe before her husband became the Communist Party chairman.

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food / travel

Pasta v. Fascists: How Italy's Staple Dish Became A Symbol Of Resistance

Pasta may not be considered controversial today, but it played an important role during Italy's fascist years, particularly in one family's celebration of community and liberation.

Photo of the Cervi family.

Photo of the Cervi family, whose seven children were shot by the Fascists on December 28, 1943, at the Reggio Emilia shooting range.

@comunisti_alla_ribalta via Instagram
Jacopo Fontaneto

ROME — Eighty years ago — on July 25, 1943 — the vote of no confidence by the Grand Council of Fascism, leading to Benito Mussolini's arrest, set off widespread celebrations. In Campegine, a small village in the Emilian province, the Cervi family celebrated in their own way: they brought 380 kilograms of pasta in milk cans to the town square and offered it to all the inhabitants of the village.

The pasta was strictly plain: macaroni dressed with butter and cheese, seen as more of a "festive dish" in that period of deprivation. As soon as the Cervi brothers learned about the arrest of Mussolini, they procured flour, borrowed butter and cheese from the dairy, and prepared kilos and kilos of pasta. They then loaded it onto a cart to distribute it to their fellow villagers. Pastasciutta (dry pasta) specifically regards dishes with noodles that are plated "dry", not in broth. That would disqualify soup, risotto, ravioli...

Even though pastasciutta is the most stereotypical type of pasta today, it had a complicated relationship with the government during Italy's fascist years.

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