Yesterday at the Beijing Forum on Literature and Art, President Xi Jinping addressed a gathering of artists, writers, and performers, calling on them to use their talents in serving the nation. At his China Copyright and Media blog, Rogier Creemers translates Xinhua’s summary of Xi’s speech:
After earnestly listening to everyone’s speeches, Xi Jinping made an important speech. First, he indicated that the literature and art undertaking is an important undertaking of the Party and the people, the literature and art battlefront is an important battlefront for the Party and the people. For a long period, the broad literature and art workers have devoted themselves to literature and art creation, performance, research and dissemination, and in their respective areas, have been diligent and hardworking, served the people, obtained clear achievements, and made important contributions. Through everyone’s joint efforts, a hundred flowers are growing in our literature and art garden and there are countless great fruits, presenting a vivid picture of flourishing and development. Xi Jinping extended his sincere respects to literature and art workers nationwide.
Xi Jinping pointed out that promoting the flourishing and development of literature and art, in the end, requires the creation and production of excellent works that can live up to this great nation and these great times. Literature and art workers should firmly keep in mind that creation is their central task, work is the root of their being, they must engage in their creation with calm hearts and a spirit of improvement, and present the best spiritual nourishment to the people. The creation and production of excellent works must be made into a central link of our literature and art work, and we must strive to produce even more excellent works that disseminate the value views of present-day China, reflect the spirit of Chinese culture, mirror the aesthetic pursuits of Chinese people, which organically integrate ideology, artistry and enjoyability.
[…] Xi Jinping stressed that Socialist literature and art, essentially speaking, is the people’s literature and art. Literature and art must reflect well the people’s wishes; it must persist in the fundamental orientation of serving the people and serving Socialism. […] [Source]
Xi’s language evokes that used by Mao Zedong in 1942 at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, a landmark series of talks that set the long-standing Party line on using the arts to serve politics. At The New York Times, Austin Ramzy notes that Xi’s emphasis on ideological work in the arts follows a paradigm of Chinese leadership, and that Xi described the artist’s mission in terms of an ideological soft power war with the West:
Chinese leaders have often given direction on what paths creative works should follow. In 1942, Mao Zedong delivered his Yan’an Talks on Literature and Art, which declared that creative ambitions must first answer to the goal of building a socialist state. Deng Xiaoping later quoted with approval Stalin’s line that writers and other artists could be “engineers of the human soul,” and said that people in cultural fields should study Marx, Lenin and Mao to understand just how their audience’s souls should be engineered.
[…] While none has carried the same force as Mao, Chinese leaders have continued to offer direction on what course culture should follow. Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, spoke of the arts as a vehicle to increase national prestige and soft power. He spoke of the need for Chinese works to compete with movies and music from overseas that had found eager audiences in China.
[…] Mr. Xi also described art in terms of a competition of cultures.
“Chinese art will further develop only when we make foreign things serve China, and bring Chinese and Western arts together via thorough understanding,” he said on Wednesday, adding that art should “disseminate contemporary Chinese values, embody traditional Chinese culture and reflect Chinese people’s aesthetic pursuit.” [Source]
Bloomberg Businessweek’s Dexter Roberts reports that Xi has become known for reviving Mao-era tactics in promoting ideological orthodoxy in both the Party and society at large:
Xi has already shown his proclivity for using Mao-style ideas and tactics in his efforts to purify the party’s 83 million members, including a just-concluded, 16-month-long “mass line” campaign. He also has ordered education in “core socialist values” to be substantially stepped up for Chinese youth, starting in primary school. And under Xi, journalists are now required to undergo training in “Marxist news values.” Efforts have also been made to strengthen the party’s control over universities and Chinese academics. Now it appears to be time for the artists. [Source]
The promotion of ideological orthodoxy in the Party and the populace has been a hallmark of Xi Jinping’s presidency to date. The arts are not the only aspect of Chinese culture he has sought to use toward this end: The New York Times’ Chris Buckley and Didi Kirsten Tatlow have both reportedly recently on appeals to China’s philosophical traditions.