Artists to the Countryside in Mao-style Cultural Campaign

At the Beijing Forum on Art and Literature In October, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech on the artists’ responsibility to promote Party ideology with their work. Xi’s words once again prompted comparison to his predecessor Mao Zedong, who himself defined the responsibility of in the PRC at the Yan’an Forum on Art and Literature in 1942. In another move reminiscent of the Mao era, China’s main state media regulator has announced a plan to send TV and film producers down to the countryside to inspire their work. The AFP reports:

China will send artists, -makers, and personnel to live among the masses in rural areas in order to “form a correct view of art”, state media have said.

[…] China’s media watchdog “will organise film and TV series production staff on a quarterly basis to go to grassroots communities, villages and mining sites to do field study and experience life”, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a statement by the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

Scriptwriters, directors, broadcasters and anchors will also be sent to work and live for at least 30 days “in ethnic minority and border areas, and areas that made major contributions to the country’s victory in the revolutionary war”, Xinhua added.

The move “will be a boost in helping artists form a correct view of art and create more masterpieces”, Xinhua said, citing the media administration. [Source]

Coverage from the New York Times explains how a similar tactic was used during the revolutionary era. Amy Qin reports:

Sending artists to the countryside to learn from locals was also recommended by Mao.

“China’s revolutionary writers and artists, writers and artists of promise, must go among the masses,” Mao said in his Yan’an Talks. “They must for a long period of time unreservedly and wholeheartedly go among the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers, go into the heat of the struggle, go to the only source, the broadest and richest source, in order to observe, experience, study and analyze all the different kinds of people, all the classes, all the masses, all the vivid patterns of life and struggle, all the raw materials of literature and art.”

“Only then can they proceed to creative work,” he said.

The practice of sending people to the countryside to learn socialist values from the masses was notably employed by Mao during the Cultural Revolution, in the 1960s and 70s, when he ordered 17 million urban youth to go to rural communities. Mr. Xi himself was among this generation of so-called sent-down youth. The seven years Mr. Xi spent in rural Shaanxi Province are often painted as a transformative time in which he learned to serve the people. […] [Source]

However, as Oliver Wainwright reports for The Guardian, some young Chinese artists have decided to detach from urban life without any government galvanization:

In one of Bishan [Anhui]’s ancient ancestral halls, a wooden temple where cows slept until last year, now sit a group of young locals taking advantage of free wifi and cappuccinos. In the double-height courtyard, where coffins were once laid, an elderly couple recline on a sofa, flipping through the pages of a glossy art book.

“I think most villagers were quite surprised when we opened,” says . “It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find an art bookstore. Or an espresso machine.”

Nor is it a place you would expect to find Ou. An anarchist music promoter from Shenzhen, turned underground publisher in Beijing, turned architectural curator and now country hermit, he moved to Bishan two years ago, driven by an urge to connect with rural life. The bookstore – which he convinced the owner of the trendy Librairie Avant-Garde, housed in a converted car park in Nanjing, to open here – is the latest chapter in his Bishan Project, an ambitious plan to create a prototype for China’s rural revival.

“Chinese cities have become insufferable,” he says, sitting in the courtyard of his grand old merchant’s house, which he has spent the last two years restoring from a derelict state. “They are growing at an unstoppable pace, being built at an inhuman scale and becoming ever more polluted. And they are killing off the villages in the process.” […] [Source]