Startseite Cultural Studies Figure Painting for Propaganda in the Early PRC
Figure Painting for Propaganda in the Early PRC
Forschungsdatenbank - Forschungsfeld Cultural Studies

Under the Communist rule, art for a long time is obviously not for art’s sake. Rather, it often appears, as Sabina the main character of The Unbearable Lightness of Being puts, ‘an intelligible lie’ on the surface of ‘the unintelligible truth.’[1] This also held true somewhat to Maoist China, where literature and art were assigned to function as the ‘weapons in the struggle against class enemies and tools in the socialist reconstruction of the nation.’ Such a doctrine, after being formulated in the 1942 Talks at the Yenan Forum of Writers and Artists, had anticipated the great intimacy between arts and the Communist state before the reign of Mao’s successors.[2] Hence, the aesthetic and understanding of paintings that add to the foundation of socialism have to be studied against this backdrop — the comprehensive system of state patronage of the arts, and its changing nature in PRC politics.


Books of figure painting in the SASS collection provide interesting cases, especially with regard to the role of the field in the PRC politics of identity formation. Discussion of Experiences in Revolutionary History Painting [革命歷史畫創作經驗談], for example, largely concerns itself with the portrayal of figures in representative scenes regarding Party history and the masses involved. The collection was contributed by important propaganda artists in the 1950s and 60s, and focused on the well-known works of those authors. Its topics range from the portrayal of general masses, specific leaders, to the discussion of how to display the grandeur and the spirit of time (時代精神) in paintings of major revolutionary battles fought by the Red Army — almost all crucial themes with which the Communist state was making people on the track to the peak of proletarian romanticism: Cultural Revolution. Thus, an intriguing, and always subtle reconciliation between realism and the showing of the masses’ spirit of struggle (鬥爭精神) can be seen throughout the work.


Primary Sources (Selected):

查木士金 Chamushijin (1954), 蘇維埃繪畫與版畫中的正面人物的形象 Suweiai Huihua yu Banhua zhongde Zhengmian Renwu de Xingxiang, 北京: 朝花美術出版社, 107頁Beijing: Zhaohua Meishu Chubanshe

人民美術出版社編輯室 Remin Meishu Chubanshe Bianjishi(1963), 革命歷史畫創作經驗談 Gemin Lishihua Chuangzuo Jingyantan, 北京: 人民美術出版社, 80頁Beijing: Remin Meishu Chubanshe


Bibliography for Relevant Themes:

Gao, Wenqian & Hackett, Regina (2009), “Revisiting the past: insights from the art of the Cultural Revolution,’ China Rights Forum (New York), No.3, pp. 100-109 

Holm, David (1991), Art and ideology in revolutionary China, Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press

Kraus, Richard Curt (2004), The Party and the Arty in China: The New Politics of Culture, Lanham  [etc.],  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Watson, Scott  (2002),  Art of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976,Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

Wen, Hsiao (1976), ‘China's revolution in literature and art,’ China Reconstructs (Peking) 25, No.8, pp. 2-8

Summary of the forum on the work in literature and art in the armed forces with which comrade Lin Piao entrusted comrade Chiang Ching, Peking, Foreign Language Press, 1968

[1] Kundera, Milan (1984), The Unbearable Lightness of Being

[2] Birch, Cyril (1991), Literature under Communism, Chapter 11 in MacFarquhar, Roderick & Fairbank, John K (eds.), The Cambridge History of China, Volume 15