CLP 97: 1979 “Painting in the PRC.”

Painting in the PRC. Lecture, revised version, 1979

The problems that the Chinese faced in the field of art when they founded the PRC in 1949, were essentially the same as those they faced in other areas of society & culture: how to make, out of what they had inherited, something that would meet the needs of their new society, would express their ideals and doctrines, and yet would remain distinctively Chinese, Mao called for an art that would he Socialist in content, Chinese in style. But what Chinese style? A, great part of what they inherited obviously had to be discarded; but there was no general agreement over which part. Foreign styles could of course be adapted to their use, but which foreign styles? And what was to be the basis for deciding what was suitable and what was not?

Within the Chinese tradition, art that carried taint of elitism, art aimed at privileged class, clearly not suitable; against this unarguable fact was another, equally unarguable, that most of great art of China had been produced for, and much of it by, an educated elite—who, whatever expression of benevolence toward the masses they might utter, were in fact cut off from them. And their art equally cut off from everyone who was socially and economically below them—inaccessible in both senses—ordinary Chinese had no opportunity to see it, and much of it made little sense to him anyway—-deliberately anti-popular in nature, in-group art. And this was considered by most artists and intellectuals to be best art of China; high quality meant, in effect, conformity to the special tastes that had ruled in this tradition for centuries.

Mao, in Yenan Forum talks of 1942, had faced squarely a series of difficult issues. One was the problem of raising standards vs. popularizations should artists paint what people liked, or try to raise people's tastes until they liked better things? (Or, what the artists wanted to paint?) Mao recognized that both necessary, but that the two could be contradictory; works of higher quality not so popular popularization widely considered to lower standards of thinking hard to eradicate among artists. Properly, should proceed on both fronts, in successive phases; popularization first, then raise standards a bit, then popularize works on this new level, etc, Mao stressed need for popularization through understanding lives & feelings of ordinary people art, in order to have useful place in new society, had to be intelligible to people who Bade up the society, all of them; couldn't perpetuate split between intellectuals and masses, Art also, however, had to teach, by presenting social issues, extolling progress, condemning mistakes.

Unfortunately, not much precedent for art that did these things in China; for centuries it had avoided social problems, in fact most all problems other than the artistic. Some popular art tradition, but not very strong. Especially, no tradition of political art., protest art, art expressing social or class consciousness.

Will give very brief background.

S.S. When we try to find Ch. painting with, political import, painting of Yüan dynasty sometimes cited – China invaded by Mongols, Chinese intellectuals outraged, bitter, couldn’t feelings openly so did so in obscure poems & paintings. But paintings themselves restrained, subtle. (Cheng Ssu-hsiao, Kung K’ai Jen Jen-fa). Images carried meaning of protest by association, implication; not direct representation representation of suffering people or social struggle.

S.S. LS by artists later in Yuan dynasty, period of 1350s and 60s, also convey obliquely the artists’ responses to social & political conditions of their time—time when Mongol rule deteriorating, uprisings in dif, parts of China; Ni Tsan remained aloof, painted LS expressive of disengagement; Wang Meng became involved, eventually family, painted LS expressive of turbulent, even anguished state of mind. But these also require special understanding; not meant to rouse to action or strengthen the resolve; scarcely useful models for new revolutionary art in PRC.

What about paintings that did portray common people? Not entirely unknown in China just rare, both because subject wasn't popular and because they weren’t considered worth treasuring by collectors, so that fewer have survived.

S,S, Painting of 11th cent now lost, but which must have been similar in style to this one (famous "Spring Festival on River" scroll of early 12c, in Peking) is one of very few recorded cases Ch. painting w. theme protesting social & econ. conditions. Recorded in Sung History. Painter named Cheng Hsia portrayed scenes of starvation & misery he saw in streets of Kaifeng, capital, during famine of 1073-4; showed painting to emperor in effort to shock him into action. Seemed to me, when I was preparing in 1977 to make trip to China as chairman of Chinese painting delegates; with responsibility for making speeches, that this would be fine case to refer to as forerunner of attitudes toward art in today's China. Fortunately, just before leaving, read article in Chinese literature which referred to this same painting, but in negative ways painter was blaming famine on prime minister of time, great reformer Wang An-shih; and since Wang is hero in China now, painter was betraying reactionary attitude. This proved what I had suspected anyway it's too hard keeping up with PRC policy on what is approved & what condemned rules too complicated, shifts too fast, for outsider to follow easily. (Chou Chi-ch’ang, if slides)

S.S. Another exceptional case is Chou Ch'en's famous pictures of "Beggars & Street Characters" of 1516: artist says in  inscription “painted. to warn and admonish the world.." Variously understood; one suggests… But whatever his purpose, Chou gives us powerful images of human degradation, descent into near-bestiality brought about by deprivation.

More commonly in China, when people low on social scale such as beggars depicted, shown as picturesque, more charming than shocking. Artist seems to want to spare viewer unpleasant sight of their infirmities, ugliness of poverty.

S.S. And these very much exceptions; isolated cases—figures in Ch. paintings, mostly scholar-gentlemen or noblemen or officials, seen together with servants (who are usually portrayed as distinctly smaller) and very docile & decorative women, who are portrayed uniformly acc. to ideal of feminine beauty current in time, w/o individualization. Obviously unsuitable as trad. of painting for PRC artists to follow. Some dev. of genre trad. in 19c, but didn't provide much useful precedent. And LS remained favored subjects, with bird-and-flower paintings also extremely popular. Hard to give social or ideological messages to these, although as we will see, ways were found.

This is tradition of painting that Ch. communists inherited in 1949. Had been some leftist art from 1920s on, but chiefly woodcuts (which I’ll show later.) Not much leftist painting, of significance. Other trends and movements—painters working in semi-westernized styles, painters trying to create Chinese equivalents of post-Impressionist & more avant-garde styles, weren't coming to much, So best painters. active in 50s were mostly same painters who had been leading figures in preceding decades; continued to carry on great tradition.

Danger of making such a statement is that we may be saying they are best because they were traditional—what we want Chinese art to be. But Chinese tended to feel, still feel, same way. Question of quality concerned Mao: in Yenan Forum talks of 1942 he had acknowledged that art needed both correct ideological content and artistic quality. He wrote:

"Works of art which late artistic quality have no force, however progressive they are politically. Therefore, we oppose both the tendency to produce works of art with a wrong political viewpoint and the tendency towards the "poster and slogan style" which is correct in political viewpoint but lacking in artistic power,'

Problem was that two of Mao's desiderata, quality plus Chineseness, led more or less inevitably to traditional styles, since no other good Chinese styles were available. So the best of traditional painters—those who stayed on mainland after Liberation—were leading figures in painting in early years after Lib, just as leftist writers- from 30s and early 40s were leading figures in literature. But content of painters, works wasn't very revolutionary, scarcely even leftist much of the time. They were permitted to go on painting pretty much as they had— even encouraged and honored partly matter if international prestige, partly real respect for them and their works. Some of them adapted well to new society; some scarcely tried. We'll look at a few of them.

S.S.  Most famous painter. of 20th cent.: Ch’I Pai-Shi (1863-1957). Son of peasant, worked as carpenter; had international reputation; highly honored after Lib, his widely reproduced. Art w. no special social content, to speak of. Pfd. a few doves symbolizing peace, etc, but only slightest accommo­dation to new situation.

S.S. Went on to end of life painting pretty much same things he always had; flowers and rocks, decorative pictures, some LS and fig, in style that had been popular from mid-19th dent. Not really popular traditional, in sense of painting done for common people; but common people enjoyed it. On this basis, and on basis of his proletarian origins and willingness to serve as show piece for new regime, permitted to go on painting. these quite apolitical pictures.

S.S. Interesting artist active in 50s who made minimal accommodation was P'an T'ien-shou. Makes strong comp. with heavy, thick line & flat color; quite original master. Vol. of his works pub. 1962. Writer of Intro, says that his style & thought have undergone great change since Lib. But paintings, raise question about depth of change. Left: LS of type he liked to paint; right picture seems no dif., but illus, to line from Mao; "Our livers & Mts. Have All These Many Beauties.” (1959 & 1960)

S.S. He also painted. flowers; dif. kinds, spread over surface in interesting decorative arrangement. One on right his standard composition.; one on left looks same, is; but has added note saying he means it to express idea of "Let 100 Flower Bloom”

S.S. In early 50s, lots of oil paintings produced in imitation of European painting, especially Russian tradition of socialist realism. Factory scene, rural scene. Gradually, with widening of Sino-Russian rift but even before, attraction of this kind of thing cooled; little done now, they returned/to oils, was with very different styles and subjects.

S.S. By mid-50s attraction of Soviet styles & foreign styles generally began to wear off; artists experimenting with ways of adapting Chinese styles to new uses—really adapting, not like P'an T'ien-shou. Some of these attempts look very odd today, especially to outsiders familiar with their old models— uncomfortable intrusions of new content into old settings, Painting, of 1959 "Moving the Mountains, Filling the Valleys," by one Li Yen-ch’ing; and another, 1957, by Ying Yen-p’ing, titled "The Mountain Bows its Head, the River Yields to a Road, Landscapes proper seem very traditional—could be 18c—but—

S. Lower part of Ying’s Road, village at bottom has trucks in front; engineers i/o old poet-philosopher—whole point reversed: man not seeking harmony w. nature but conquering it, imposing his will on it.

Not an amusing matter for them, at all; serious problem; and outcome of such attempts not just matter of artistic success or failure; artist ran risk of taking line that would later he "branded as wrong line, assoc. with Liu Shao-chi or some other discredited figure; unless he were quick in recognizing, admitting, and correcting his fault, could be thrust out of favor, go through very hard time. Happened in CR, Rewards & dangers that artists invites in taking a stylistic position always significant, have to be understood; his interaction with theorizing & criticism in China had for centuries had been close & complex. Style has implications that go far beyond sphere of art. Espec. true here.

Chinese now apologetic about such paintings; recognize it was a wrong direction. Several other older artists offer interesting examples of dif. kinds and degrees of adaptation to new demands.

S.S. Most famous master after Ch’i Pai-shih was Fu Pao-shih (1904-1965), who became director of Klangsu Acad, of Trad, Painting, in Nanking. His typical works are very much, in "great tradition"; he studied Shih-t'ao and other Individualist master of early Ch'ing period, wrote books on them, imitated them in his own works. Subjects quite orthodox, scholar, isolated, in center of picture, accompanied only by boy servant (who is scarcely there)--clearly expressions of individualistic, private responses to nature. Paintings can be called romantic, certainly popular; but not revolutionary romanticism—wrong kind.

Difficult to say that Fu ever realty adapted either—made small accommodations in some of later works, had great success in pre-CR period when there was greater tolerance for this kind of thing.

S.S. LS 1964. Same style, essentially. One, however, depicts steamboat on Yangtze River—small plus—technological progress. Other has red sky (large plus), factories, steamboats w, smoke pouring from stacks (prob. responsible for red sky—double symbolism)} red flat, procession of farmers.

S. In some late pictures, his accommodation more thorough; painting of Mao's birthplace, or this huge painting that he, did in collaboration w. Kuan Shan-yüeh, artist I'll speak of later. In his e display works, his well-known style suppressed; he had to give up his strengths, really, to adapt. His style suited to small, delicate, poetic expressions that scarcely suited new conditions. Difficult to say that his adaptation was really successful, in the end.

S.S. Another important artist who has highly honored, still is, is but whose transition into new China only partial, is Li K’o-jan (b. 1907). Pupil of Ch'i Pai-shih; spec. in pictures of boys & water buffalo, other figures. Pleasant, bucolic scenes, no special message; he did torn in quantities during 1950s, early 60s, they were much reproduced and sold abroad, like Fu's.

S.S. Two of his figure paintings—again, ideologically neutral, at best-man having his back scratched, woman daydreaming among banana palms, both very private pleasures, scarcely suited to new, collective ideals,

S.S. Also did LS w. houses, setting strong b & w patterns agst textured ground; these among his finest works. Should be possible, by the way, to define a mid-20o Chinese, LS style, eventually, that will take in painters, so diverse at first sight as Id H'o-jan, Ch'en Gh'l-k'uan, C.G.Wang, Chang Ta-ch’ien—ways of setting geometric patterns made by houses etc, against ground that is more or less amorphous, sometimes produced by random techniques. But that's outside scope of his lecture.

S.S. As time went on, used heavier and heavier ink; culminated in paintings such as one on left, from 1960: white houses against. black mountains, red for flowering trees. Heavily criticized by Chiang Ch'ing and others for painting somber, dark pictures—or "black pictures” of—people like brighter, cheerier styles, with colors, lively detail. During the 60s, adapted style, painted in heavier colors. Case where his artistic inclination, as represented in internal development of his art, goes against official doctrine speaking, supposedly, for popular taste; he couldn’t continue to indulge it.

S.S. Another type of picture he often painted was scene of Yangtze River gorges. Two iron same year, 1962 repeats other; but when no emphasis on individuality, and paintings prod, for sale abroad, perfectly legitimate.

In 1964t adapted this compositional type to special subject line from Kao poem, abt. famous incident in war, to drive out Nationalists "Our Mighty Army, a Million Strong, has Crossed the Yangtze," As example of how traditional techniques can be used for depiction of new, 'stirring content, seems quite successful.

S. But beside depiction of same subject by minor artist dated 1971, Li's is seen to be very traditional in style, concerned with aesthetic values. Mo question of which is better painting, by traditional standards; but other better as stimulating vision of event; if purpose is to stir people, this is way to do it.

Chronological stylistic break bet, these two pictures an important one? Li's just precedes GH, other from Chiang Ch'ing years. During this time, such compromises as we have been seeing became unacceptable tolerant, liberal period over.

S.S. To finish account of Li K'o-jan, two later works, 1972, Sunset Over Loushan Pass: style completely changed, Heavy color, striking effect of sunset light; units of Red Army making their way through pass. Heavy-handed, has lost qualities this made earlier paintings original and admirable. Hardly indistinguishable now from other painters of grandiose scenes intended for hanging in reception halls. Has given in to pressures. Other picture in painted, in late 1977 after "second liberation" artists a man free, were told to paint what they wanted. And here is poor old Li X'o-jan, in painted, prominently featured in China Reconstructs going back to painting, old scene of Ci River, now with green color i/o ink washes.

He can be seen, really, as tragic case, impossible of course to say how his career would have gone if hadn't happened, but clear that it was blighted by demands that failed to recognize what kind of painter. he was, demands that couldn't be met without sacrifice of his strengths.

Here, we should pause and say a few words about Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of mid-60s, effect of it on painting.

During CR, Mao's Yenan Forum talks of 1942 re-discussed, reinterpreted by faction led by Chiang Ch'ing, who wanted to tighten control over lit, and art, make narrower definition of what was acceptable. Couldn't openly oppose ideas put forth by Mao; used strategem of arguing that they had to be understood in historical context: Mao had been talking to leftist intellectuals left over from 1930s, needed to unite them in war against Japan & against Nationalists. Accordingly, he agreed basically that intellectuals had to supply culture for masses; emph. written word, although Chinese were mostly illiterate (80%, acc, to his 1954 estimate). Mao urged these intellectuals to go among workers, peasants, and soldiers, and learn from them; but admonitions not taken seriously enough they continued to live in cities, espec. Shanghai, work for own elitist ends.

In this context, Mao had said that proletariat could take over best of bourgeois culture, adapt it to their needs—also foreign culture, old culture. Had cautioned against over-reliance on if, but fairly permissive attitude, as seen later by CR people. Nowhere did Mao call on masses to create own culture, in media not dependent on written word, literacy: story-telling, opera, painting, ballet, musical performances, etc.

From 1949, for nearly a decade, direction set by Yenan talks prevailed; established writers & artists continued to supply culture for masses, of whom they had little real understanding. Tightening began in 1957, with crackdown following 100 flowers campaign; writers criticized, artistic activities of W.P.&S stressed. Even more powerful attacks on established writers & artists during CR. Key document is "Summary of the Forum on the Work In Literature and Art in the Armed Forces with which Comrade Lin Piao entrusted Comrade Chiang Ch'ing,(Forum held 1966). Such statements as these: "We must destroy the blind faith In what is known as the literature & art of the 1930s…" and "We must destroy blind faith In Chinese and foreign classical literature." (Denounced "box-office earnings theory," the "foreign exchange earnings" theory, and the theory that "revolutionary works can't travel abroad," (Chou En-lai under attack here) believed that preserving some of Ch. trad, culture worthwhile because, among other reasons, gave better image abroad, made artistic products more acceptable and saleable.)

Important passage "Another outstanding feature of the socialist cultural revolution in the last three years is the widespread mass activity of workers, peasants, and soldiers on the fronts of ideology, lit. and art. W.P.& S now are producing many fine works of lit. and art in praise of the triumph of our socialist revolution, the dig leap forward on all fronts of socialist construction our new heroes, and the brilliant leadership of our great party and our great leader. The workers and peasants should create their own literature and art."

And of course, as we know, they did. In Peking In 1973 we were taken to exhib. of Hu-hsien peasant paintings; although idea of encouraging peasants & workers to paint seemed excellent, I found myself reacting w. sense of deep mistrust of authenticity of these as peasant expressions, or truly naive art.

S.S. In vol. of representative new paintings. pub. in 1959, shortly after idea W.P.& S. art had first been introduced, three plates in large vol. given to them--two workers, one peasant. Tokenism. And seem genuine: worker's picture seems a bit sophisticated in use of ink for effects of distance, but believable; and painting, by peasant woman, uninscribed—illiterate?--looks like just what one would expect her to paint, w/o interference from outside--elements of popular art as seen in New Years' pictures, primitive disproportion, etc.

S.S. By 1970s, this is what peasants were supposed to be painting; a few primitivist touches, but not essentially dif. from what trained commercial artist would be doing. Not just matter of peasants having learned to paint dif. conception of how they were supposed to paint. Orig, contention, that WP&S understood their own lives & concerns better and therefore could do truer pictorial expression of them than professional artists, whatever their faults of tech., was distorted into quite dif. assertions that WP&S could paint as well as professional artists, by whatever standards, find by some process we can only guess at they were meant to do so.

Several new directions went along with this. Emphasis on collective activity model operas by groups, paintings. also even “Yellow River Concerto," which fulfills all expectations you might have of what would result of piano concerto composed by group effort. Anonymity was norm artistic prod, not for self-glorification. When individually established painter eventually permitted to continue, it was on terms that allowed no display of their originality; hence Li K'o-jan's undistinguished landscape. Other changes; no special payments to artists (which had been like "private plots" in agriculture.)

Will look next at two artists who came into prominence during CR: Ch'ien Sung-yen Yuan Shan-yüeh.

S.S. Artist who has demonstrated that traditional style not incompatible with socialist content more successfully than others, and who as a result was most highly honored traditional Painter during early 70s, is Ch'len Sung-yen.

Born 1898; spent decades as obscure middle school teacher, practicing painting on his own w/o attracting much attention, in 1956, joined Kiangsu Acad. of Traditional painting; in 1973, its director—don't know now. He, too, did LS with buildings in 1950s, like Li K’o-jan; politically neutral pictures. Not especially distinctive style—-rather homogeneous.  Also, left, painting. Of 1958, Chiang-nan Ch'un: trad, LS w. peasants working.

S. 1972 "How Green Are Our Fields," fen Much reproduced and admired. He wrote quite a lot during these years among other things, about how one should use traditional techniques, but correct them according to nature. Old idea; he can do it to point where picture, or parts of it, has almost photographic realism. Realism has always been popular, everywhere; abstraction a rather special taste, except certain decorative kinds.  Big success, whether we see this as successful synthesis of old & new, East and West, is matter of individual taste & judgment.

S.S. Yenan: one of sure-fire subjects in China during 60s and early 70s Ch'ien wrote: When I paint place of importance in revolution, try to infuse revolu­tionary feeling by using bright colors. Ch'len also does industrial scenes, other subjects; willing to adapt—compromise, if you will—enjoys rewards, | S. In huge exhib, of recent painting, that we saw in Peking in November 1973, only two painters. in trad. styles represented Ch'ien Sung-yen and Kuan Shan-yüeh. Ch'ien rep, by this painting, of pine on Mt, T’ai, red peaks beyond; later saw in Nanking, when taken on tour by painter. himself. I made mistake of commenting on how well he recaptured style of Shih-t’ao--cool response; explained… Good painting, anyway, however we interpret it.

S.S. Two paintings by Kuan Shan-yüah; Cantonese painter, porn 1912. One of trees on shore of ocean: other blossoming plum, tree w, red flowers. I wrote back to family & students that these were only paintings in show w/o overt political content. How wrong I was. Later read descriptions of pictures by Kuan himself & others. One of trees by sea turns out to have depletion of afforestation project carried out on coast by women militia. Artist writes of using tech. from European painting, to give greater impact. Official commentary on it says it was painted “to express the fighting will of the people and their revolutionary successes achieved through hard struggle. The roaring wind, the billowing waves and the marching militiamen suggest clans struggle and the high vigilance of the revolutionary masses." Other painting was of blossoming plum, with red flowers.  I had of course caught importance of red color, but missed a great deal else. Illustrates line from Kao poem; "She longs for spring not for herself alone." Old symbolism of blossoming plum: (..) Now, new meaning stands for revolutionaries who selflessly serve as harbingers of future even though they may not survive to enjoy it.

S.S. He also paints huge paintings for public bldg one of Great Wall, another favorite subject; and huge painting., 5 1/2 meters long, which he did in 1959 with Fu Pao-shih. Illus. same line from Mao poem, "Our Rivers & Mts. Have All These Many Beauties," as P’an T’ien-shou painting. we saw earlier pretended to. This one hangs in Great Hall of People in Petting, much reproduced and praised. Change from green mountains in FG to snow-covered ones in distance indicates great expanse of Chinas rising sun, of course, is coming of communism, spreading light over whole country Strong, functional picture, but hard, to talk about in terms of artistic quality; not much of individual style of either artist remains.

Now, I want to talk briefly abt. types of paintings done in these same periods, not by famous artists; paintings. that generally have fewer ties to past, needn't make these compromises. This side of PRC painting virtually unrepresented in collections outside China. Generally represent attempts at more progressive kinds of painting from our p.v., not progressive at all, but retrogressive. Harder to admire as art—maybe shouldn't be judged as art at all.

S,S. Most popular, often-rep. theme of all, of course, was Chairman Kao. Two dif. kinds of images, and some controversy over which was right kind: in one Kao's figure integrated with peasants or workers, same size as they, just enough different to focus attention on him. Others show Mao rising above masses, or as isolated meditative figure, as in one on right.

S. Bet. from Tao-chi, artist has used old type implications very differently: that is, two figures are meditating on very different matters--or so we can assume-­but this is something we know from external associations, not from what pictures tell us.

S.S. In 1950s, early 60, pictures of revolutionary heroes & groups of heroes popular; these from volume pub. 1964. Five Heroes on a Mountaintop Eight Women Driven Into the River. Last, desperate stands of guerilla units, resigned to death; dramatic, moving works of art, of which the sincerity comes through even now; if we find them hard to take, may speak more of deficiencies in us than in the paintings. But artistically, more on level of magazine illustrations than what we think of as works of art.

S.S. During Chiang Ch'ing years, everything had to be upbeat} plays given happy endings; art had to be affirmative. These are from 1972: "Before Entering the University"--girl about to go off, but anxious not to lose touch, w. her peasant roots; and "A New Pace at the Coal Mine," Thousands of such things painted; they made up bulk of exhibition we saw in 1973. Not much variety in style. Realistic bright colors; unbearably positive in their message, with everybody smiling toothily.

S.S. Uniformity of these in style also works against. Not accepting them as works of art. Copy-books exist which provide models for artists who want to paint these now-orthodox subjects: W.P. & S. minority peoples, etc.

S.S. These serve same function as "Mustard-seed Garden Manual of Painting." and similar painters' manuals did in earlier ages, teaching artists how scholar-gentlemen, or fishermen, or wood-gatherers should properly be represented. In making such comp., I'm not pulling old trick of implying that the more China seems to change, the more it remains the same—nonsense—but only pointing out ways in which Chinese In recent times have made use of elements of their tradition.

S.S. Same evolution from what we would consider more powerful political art, with impact, to blander, affirmative art can be seen in woodcuts, in early period, late 1920s and 30s, woodcut movement grew up largely under encouragement of famous writer Lu Hsün; from time he moved to Shanghai around 1927, was instrumental in organizing exhibition encouraging artists, publicizing their works abroad. Expression of anguish and anger, inspired by leftist woodcuts of Europe, notably German expressionists, Kathe Kollwitz. Woodcut medium recognition as good means of propagating images, popularizing, reaching many more people. But during war against. Japanese, woodcuts used for dif. purposes to express superiority of life under Communists to corrupt society under nationalists. Peasants & factory workers became favorite themes; styles lost expressionist intensity.

S.S. Technique of color woodcut highly developed in 50s, 60s; doubtless some inf. from Japanese color woodcuts, but chiefly In tech.—style & subjects their own. These both from 1964 "The First Bumper Harvest," "At the Bus Terminal," These became known outside China thru reproduced in Chinese Lit. etc. Attractive reproduce well; achieve aims of popular art w. right ideological content.

That is, from their p.v.—from ours, or at least mine, an art that lacks punch, to say the least. Comparable, perhaps, to what hag germ to music in Russia.

Fall of Chiang Ch'ing and Gang of Pour In autumn of 1976 changed whole situation? when our painting, delegation arr. in China a year later, artists others were sneaking of this event as "second liberation." New official line that resolved problem of how intellectuals could create art for people since literacy now general in China (they argued) intelligentsia no longer alienated from leaded; profess. writers & artists can write or paint works of art that express common ideals; people can judge what’s good and what’s bad in them.  General liberalization; still don't know how far it will go.

Does new freedom seem to be bringing about wonderful flowering art?

Will conclude with consideration of an institution and some artists that suggest my very mixed, very tentative feelings on that question. This is Shanghai Painting. Academy.

S.S. In 1962, book on Bird & Flower paintings of Shanghai school published in China revealed surprisingly conservative continuation of that tradition. Most famous master earlier in century was Wu Ch'ang-shih? a pupil of his, Wang Ko-i, still active in Academy. Wu Ch'ang-shih painting of 1916 on left, Hang Ko-i's of 1960 on right; later picture doesn't reveal much progress.

S.S. Other paintings in volume showed more originality; one by Hsieh Chih-liu, of lotus; and, more interestingly, a painting of bamboo by Ch'eng Shih-fa that seemed to be giving new life to old tradition in line drawing of great vitality, unhackneyed composition.

S.S. In 1973, on my request (I wanted to meet Ch'eng), several of us were taken to Academy. Old, elegant, somewhat run-down bid. Met by six artists, including Wang Ko-i and Ch'eng Shih-fa, who talked to us about their efforts to create a new revolutionary art, then showed us pictures that were not very revolutionary, in any sense.

S.S. Each of them painted a picture for one of us; Wang Ko-i did another of his traditional flower pictures, Ch'eng Shih-fa painted, one of his typical themes, a girl of one of the southern minority peoples and a deer, for me. Other, younger artists working in same styles, doing same b&f subjects. A self-perpetuating tradition existing, rather surprisingly, in society dedicated to eradicating
such hangovers from past. My own feelings mixed: on one hand, good to see that old tradition still carried on by artists who preserve old techniques; on other, a wish that they could have found something new to do with the tradition.

S.S. In 1977 we visited the Shanghai Academy again; some of same artists in group? Wang Ko-i and Ch'eng Shih-fa away, but Mr, Tang Yün, another old b&f painter. and Miss Yü Y-mei, a younger one, still there. Pour years had passed; they were talking now of Second Liberation, emancipation from stifling conditions of Chiang Ch’ing years. But still painting same birds & flowers. Same old, somewhat tired flowers blooming. When we were told that wang Ko-i had been criticized for painting, pictures that rep. "restoration of capitalism" we could feel sympathy for Wang, but also for the charges his pictures did, indeed, seem too closely tied to old, somewhat discredited society. Artists were in fact incapable of meeting demands of new society, as their art was. Adherents of Gang of Four demanded that they change to painting. pictures
attacking "capitalist readers." But hopeless; most of them couldn’t paint figures at all. Mismatch of style and history.

S.S. Old Mr, Chang Ta-chiao, in 70s, traditional painter. He painted picture that was especially criticized: green beans. Other stories told: Lin Feng-nien, another famous old painter, blacklisted for painting magpies, which Chiang Ch’ing took to be allusions to herself. And so forth.

S.S. We were shown recent painting by Ch'eng Shih-fa, and told that he had been criticized for formalism. Formalism refers, 1 think, to exactly what we admire most in his pictures; strong designs produced by structures of brushstrokes that go beyond their representational function to produce tensions between abstract form, just as they always had in the best Chinese painting, Ch’eng Shih-fa exemplifies, I think, both the major problem facing present-day Chinese painting and possible solutions to it. Problem: since Liberation, because emphasis had to be on great achievements being made, revolutionary art defined generally as affirmative and supportive art. Optimistic about future; celebrates positive aspects of present. This leads to a quality of blandness that makes it hard for us to take? and so also for some Chinese; expressed relief, recently, at possibility of unhappy endings to plays and operas, Most of what we've been looking at is decidedly affirmative, w/o much punch, What we think of as powerful political art—Daumier, George Grosz, Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill—derives power from incisive, bitter portrayals of bad conditions and enemies of social progress. What happens to protest art after conditions it was protesting have been corrected?

S.S. Ch'eng Shih-fa’s paintings mostly exemplify affirmative types gentle, unproblematic in theme. Born in 1912? his early work as artist was chiefly in the form of book illustrations, the finest of recent years In China. In 1956, joined Shanghai Painting Academy; and in 1957 traveled to Tai Autonomous Region in Yünnan, spent time there sketching costumes, activities of Tai. Since then has specialized in such pictures; and portrayals of minority peoples one of subjects encouraged in PRC. He likes to do pictures of children with animals--goats, deer, sheep; children rosy-cheeked, lovable--all we've been conditioned to wrinkle our noses at. Reviewers, when we showed some of these at UAM, called them sentimental, etc. Ones "1 don't know whether there's a Chinese word, for kitsch, but that's the word to describe the most syrupy of the entries on display at UC, Conspicuous among these are the works of Ch'eng Shih-fa, his pink-cheeked basket carriers suggesting good greeting card material." He adds, more per­ceptively, "But I suspect these artists' true ideal is a kind of sweetness and innocence, and perhaps those are qualities which contribute, at least in part, to the relative tranquility of modern China."

Most people have same reaction; someone always comes up after lecture… But that is simply a matter of their being unable to move beyond subject matter

S.S. As we look at Ch'eng Shih-fa’s paintings further, become aware we're not in presence of just another painter. of bland, bucolic scenes, but of extraordinary artist. His control of wet & dry ink effects is masterly, his line drawing unmatched today in sureness and vitality, combining best quality of Chinese and western craftsmanship. Compositional inventiveness equally remarkable; often brilliant as pure design on surface. Does use bright colors, but sparingly—at least, at this period—and effectively, along w. powerful masses of deep ink.

S.S. Leaves from album of pictures of children and animals in Tal? region. Uses traditional materials and tech, for new effects and purposes. Content of his pictures scarcely revolutionary but acceptable: expresses close emotional bond of these peasant children their animal charges. But this isn't something we have to be told by official commentators; there in picture; style and content not separable. In context of all else done in China today, charge of sentimen­tality off the mark—carry more real understanding & love for subjects than most others.

S.S.  And Ch'eng's refinements of drawing coloring, and original uses of picture surface, raise him well above level of most others. Very sensitive and economical line, subtleties of expression.

Now, if painter can achieve this, would seem to provide ideal answer to problem of popularization vs, raising standards, by doing both, w/o loss to either.

S. Also does scenes of drama & opera—scene from "Legend of White Snake," Bold, original design; element of mystery in way he shows 3rd figure only as eyes on edge of picture. Captures imagination even of people who know nothing of subject. Others a landscape; does only few, but even those add something new to tradition.

S.S. Has also done what seem to me finest set of illustrations to come out of PRC: his illus. to Lu Hüin's Ah Q, pub, in 1963. Story prob. known to most of you—Lu Hsün's bitterly comical story of this ignorant, blundering character who stood for all that Lu saw wrong with China at that time—a man too dumb even to he was being victimized. Alternates bet. servility and ineffective belligerence.

S.S. Through brilliantly unorthodox compositions, Ch'eng Shih-fa conveys the wry humor and ironies of the story—Ah Q hears of a revolution and tries to join it, but fails even in that—becomes implicated nonetheless, still uncomprehened.

S. And in the end is shot, with crowd looking on, still w. look on his face of dumb submissiveness to his fate, not quite sure what he's supposed to have done.

S.S. Might take but not for us a Most recently, has produced series of pictures of women in Hung-lou meng, using more color, broader & more varied brushwork; has lost some of tension of earlier style, perhaps originality of composition. These reproduced as calendar; he sent me copy; symptomatic of new dev. in China that each page has advertisement for printer's ink. If you say that these belong on a calendar, no answer, except that I'm confident an artist as original & accomplished as this, still in his fifties, will go on to even more impressive accomplishments.

S.S. Not enough time has elapsed since "Second Liberation" for us to assess what effect it's going to have; artists still testing their freedom. May be very good young artists, not, published or known; known painters may be doing things we don't know about. Recent picture of Ch'eng Shih-fa, in loose, scattered style; and one by Huang Yung-yü, who has risen to some prominence recently -this painting, and others of his reproduced in magazines from mainland seems to me objectionable kind of decorative kitsch; if this is what liberation leads to, god help Chinese painting. Part of new Coca-cola culture? But Chinese painting too strong a tradition, even after these years of being buffeted by political storms, to slip into that kind of meretriciousness. We can expect new, exciting developments; what they will be, we can only wait to see.

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