Art and China’s Cultural Revolution
Traditional Chinese art has always been a major aspect of Chinese history. However, shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao Zedong declared that art should serve the people. In the three decades following the establishment of China’s Communist party art and China’s Revolution undergone one of the most disastrous and tumultuous eras in modern Chinese history. During this time, the Mao Zedong led government sought to modernize all aspects of Chinese society, a process that included suppressing or destroying much of traditional culture. The government also wanted to produce a new visual culture to communicate its philosophy and objectives to the people of China.
Artists were encouraged to create art that reflected the revolutionary spirit of the time, in Mao’s words, to create art for the people. The impact of this directive on artists and art making was massive. Oil painting in a socialist realist style substituted ink painting which had been one of the most admired art forms in China for over one thousand years as the ideal painting style. Revolutionary heroes, such as soldiers, workers, and peasants replaced traditional subjects such as birds, flowers, and landscapes.
While this move toward new methods and subjects began in the 1950s, it was embraced with greater precision during the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976. During this ten year period, referred to as the decade of catastrophe by some, senior artists particularly ink painters were subjected to public embarrassment and torment, and their homes and artworks were confiscated and destroyed. Such harassment was not restricted to the art world, but occurred across the entire nation resulting in the death of thousands.
There is not one narrative of this complex period, but many different ones, as individual experiences varied greatly. Few members of the older generation, which included teachers and respected artists,...