chineseposters.net
home | gallery | themes | "too many books" | artists | resources | reprints | about | contact

Chou Yang [Zhou Yang]
Mao Tse-tung's Teachings and Contemporary Art

Originally published in:
People's China 16 September 1951, pp. 5-8

The author of this text is Zhou Yang (周扬, 1908-1989; in this publication the transcription 'Chou Yang' is used), the Party's most influential official in the field of arts and literature after 1949. Before the Cultural Revolution, he held many high positions, such as vice-minister of culture, vice-director of the Department of Propaganda of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. In 1955 he led the campaign against Hu Feng, the literary critic who opposed the supremacy of ideology over the arts as advocated by Mao Zedong. Later, Zhou became more liberal. He was the co-author of the so-called Ten Points on Literature and Art (1962) that allowed for more artistic freedom and warned against undue political interference. In 1966, he was among the first senior officials to fall. He was humiliated many times at mass meetings and ruthlessly persecuted (see To Trumpet Bourgeois Literature and Art Is to Restore Capitalism). After the Cultural Revolution, he was rehabilitated and regained his position.



Mao Tse-tung's Teachings and Contemporary Art

Chou Yang

Vice-Minister of Cultural Affairs and Noted Critic

This article is largely based on the author's report delivered at the Central Institute for Research in Literature on May 12, 1951.

Comrade Mao Tse-tung's speech at the 1942 Round Table Literary Discussion in Yenan advanced modern Chinese literature to a new stage of development. It not only dealt a devastating blow at all reactionary imperialist and feudal literature, but also justly and sharply criticised various kinds of petty bourgeois literary trends and tendencies. This criticism was justified because such petty bourgeois ideas had particularly deep roots in progressive literary circles. Revolutionary petty bourgeois writers had often appeared under the banner of "proletarian" literature and this resulted in a blurring of the ideological demarcation line between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie. For this reason, in the ideological struggle it was a particularly important, but at the same time difficult and complex task to distinguish proletarian from nonproletarian thought, to preserve the purity and integrity of proletarian thought, and to bring the revolutionary petty bourgeois writers to side sincerely with the proletariat.

Comrade Mao Tse-tung correctly advanced the principle that literature and art must serve the workers, peasants and people's fighters - a principle that directly concerns the writers' whole philosophy of life and raises the whole problem of remoulding their thoughts and sentiments. The realisation of this principle is in fact the crux of all their problems. Comrade Mao Tse-tung thus solved the crucial problem - the problem of bringing literature and art into unity with the masses. This was the task that so many vain attempts had been made to solve ever since the "May Fourth Movement" in 1919.

Realising Mao Tse-tung's Art Policy

A national congress of literary and artistic workers met in Peking in July 1949, three months before the establishment of the Central People's Government of the Chinese People's Republic. It made a survey of cultural achievements since 1942 and took the principles advanced by Chairman Mao Tse-tung at the Literary Discussion in Yenan as the "common programme" for creative efforts in our modern Chinese art and literature. During the past two years, therefore, Mao Tse-tung's teachings on literature have been widely propagated among the intelligentsia of the country.

Several literary works of the past two years can justly lay claim to some distinction. The fighting heroism of the People's Liberation Army is described in Liu Pai-yu's Flame at the Front, Ku Likao's Ever Forward, Han Feng's Yin Ching-chun, Han Hsi-liang's 68 Days (novels), Chiao Fu-chun's Storm on the Sea (reportage), Hu Ko's Grow, and Mature in Battles (a play) and some of the well-written reports from the Korean front such as Who Are the Most Loveable People by Wei Wei, etc.; stories of the people's heroic struggles with the enemy during the Anti-Japanese War and the War of Liberation are told in Hsu Kuang-yao's Flame on the Plain, Chen Teng-ko's Sister-in-law Tu and The Pond of Living People (novels). Lao Sheh's Pearl Fang and Dragon-Beard Ditch describe the tremendous changes in the life and thoughts of the urban labouring people after liberation; Ko Fu's The Levee (a play), Pai Wei's Living Through The Barren Years, Wang An-yu's Sister-in-law Li Marries Again, Chao Shu-li's Registration, Ku Yu's New Ways of Doing New Things (novels and novellettes), etc. describe new developments in the villages and the new life of the peasants; Chao Hsi's The Beginning of Remoulding (a novel) and Tu Yin's In Front of New Things (a play) describe the new industrial construction.

It is particularly worth noting that many new writers are being recruited directly from the ranks of the worker and peasant masses. Chen Teng-ko, author of Sister-in-law Tu and The Pond of Living People, for instance, came from a poor peasant family and only started his regular education and began to learn to write after he joined the PLA. He is a promising writer who has succeeded in giving authentic expression to the feelings of the labouring people, and conveying a consciousness of their strength.

Considerable successes have been achieved also in other branches of art. The people's cinema is the youngest of the arts. But it is also the most effective art form enjoying the largest audience. Among the successful or comparatively successful pictures of the past two years we can mention The White-haired Girl, The Steeled Fighters, Shangjao Concentration Camp, Daughters and Sons, The Victory of the Inner Mongolian People, Unite! Fight for the New Day! These productions have already gained for the people's cinema the love of the broad masses of the people. It has resolutely freed itself from Hollywood influence and has begun

p. 5

to create a national art style of the worker and peasant masses.

Conspicuous successes have also been achieved in the work of reforming the various old art forms that are popular among the people. The first of these is the drama. Many playwrights, actors and actresses have shown unrivalled political zeal and spirit in this work of reform. They have created an exceedingly large number of entirely new dramas, plays and musical dialogues. The new opera, developed on the basis of the old yangko of the Northwest, has spread all over the country and stimulated new developments in the various forms of traditional local folk drama and musical culture. At the same time these old popular art forms are being drawn upon in the creation of new operas. Folk dancing has developed especially rapidly and new forms, new dances have been created. The reform of the old New Year pictures and picture-book serials has also resulted in the creation of a large number of new New Year pictures and picture-book serials with a new content and form.

The characteristically mass nature of our arts and literature is also shown in the amateur cultural activities of the broad masses of workers, peasants and people's fighters. These activities have become an integral part of their cultural life and one of the important means for the self-education of the masses. Our arts and literature have in fact two component parts - professional literary and artistic activities and the amateur literary and artistic activities of the masses. Amateur drama groups and other cultural-recreational organisations are now a usual part of the life of the villages, armed forces and factories. Many excellent works have been the fruit of the creative activities of the masses themselves. The two plays Not a Cicada, Gate No. 6 and many poems and drawings by workers outstandingly demonstrate the artistic creative talent of the emancipated Chinese working class.

It is thus clear that every achievement in our literary and artistic work has been made as a result of correctly carrying out Mao Tse-tung's policy for art. This policy is the class policy of the proletariat, its mass policy in the sphere of literature and the other arts, directing that they must serve the people, and first of all, the workers, peasants and people's fighters. Literary and artistic workers must unite under the leadership of the working class with the masses of workers, peasants and people's fighters; for without such unity, the source of artistic creation is cut off and the artist deprives himself of the very basis on which he must remould his outlook.

All literary and artistic workers have now in fact proclaimed their support for the artistic principles enunciated at Yenan and the great majority of them are completely sincere in these professions of support; nevertheless it is not uncommon still to find in individual cases ambiguity, vacillation and even opposition on this fundamental question of unity with the masses of workers, peasants and people's fighters.

Comrade Mao Tse-tung calls on us to enter the struggles of the masses "with persistence, unconditionally and whole-heartedly," but some of our literary and artistic workers often do so in a halfhearted spirit of temporising and with reservations. Comrade Mao Tse-tung calls on us to throw ourselves into the fierce struggles of the masses, but some of our literary and artistic workers often stand apart from these struggles. Bear in mind that as soon as cultural workers isolate themselves from the masses and from reality, they are invariably attacked and made prisoner by various bourgeois and petty bourgeois trends of thought.

If our literature and the other arts are to benefit the workers, peasants and people's fighters, and are to serve them fundamentally, then, our literary and artistic thought must be proletarian and not bourgeois or petty bourgeois. Therefore, our primary mission today must be to carry out Mao Tse-tung's policy for art in all our literary and artistic work, and to combat every tendency which deviates from this policy.

The Great Theme of Patriotism

"Our nation will never more be insulted, we have stood up." These were Chairman Mao's words in his opening address to the First General Assembly of the People's Political Consultative Conference. This solemn declaration defined the position of the Chinese people in the modern world. Thus the central theme of patriotic literature must be to express the outlook and aspirations of the Chinese people who have "stood up."

Our arts have traditionally been patriotic, i.e., they have been traditionally opposed to imperialist aggression and feudal oppression. They have been filled with hatred for all aggressors and oppressors and with deep concern for the nation's destiny. Now the Chinese people have overthrown the rule of the reactionaries both native and foreign, and have created the people's own political power - the people's democratic dictatorship. The Chinese people, always industrious and courageous, have been well steeled and trained in the protracted course of the revolution and under the guidance of the people's democracy. Their vitality is being daily enhanced. Out of the midst of the masses, new heroic and model characters are appearing in an unending stream on the battlefield, the production line and in other spheres of endeavour. To fulfil its role our literature and art must in the first place depict these leading characters among the Chinese people, show the great strength of the Chinese nation and of the Communist Party of China, show the wisdom and heroism of the people.

Our cultural workers have described how difficult is the process of self-remoulding in the course of the people's struggles. This is very necessary. This process of remoulding will be a protracted one. Literature and the other arts should reflect and facilitate this process of remoulding so as to help raise the people's consciousness to the levels of democracy and of Socialism.

Han Feng's novel Ying Ching-chun, published in People's Literature, was a powerful expression of the new qualities of a people's fighter. The hero, Ying Ching-chun had his shortcomings. He violated

p. 6

the discipline of the battle front, and because of this, he was not accepted into the Communist Party. This was a bitter disappointment, for his desire to join the Party was one of the mainsprings of his entire life. But as the political commissar said: "He is an `iron man.' Some people are not afraid of the enemy; but they cannot conquer their own moral weaknesses. But this man is not afraid of anything. He can stand on his feet wherever you put him." Finally he makes good and joins the Party. When he is admitted, he declares: "This is a great honour that I have received from the Party. Whenever I thought of the Party, I felt strengthened in face of difficulties. Apart from this, what would I be worth?"

When a fighter fights heroically only in order to protect his own home and his own plot of land, or when a farmer actively engages in production only in order to become rich, he cannot thereby be called a new character. Only when a man consciously fights for the common good and places the national interest and interests of the entire people before personal and family interest, can he be called a new character, and only then can his qualities be called new qualities.

Our writings must express these new qualities of the new people. They must portray the heroism of the Communists; they must educate the broad masses of the people and youth with true descriptions of valiant deeds and model conduct. This at the present time is the first and foremost task for creative workers in the field of the arts.

Our Great National Art Tradition

The new people's literature and arts must follow the. great tradition in our own national literature and arts and develop and enrich the national forms of creative art.

We have a rich legacy in literature and art. As Comrade Mao Tse-tung has said in his On New Democracy:

"In the long history of feudal society, the Chinese people created a brilliant ancient culture. Therefore, to re-evaluate our ancient culture, to sift the feudal rubbish with which it is cluttered and absorb its rich democratic content is a necessary task for the development of our new national culture and for the elevation of our national self-confidence."

To consider the new culture as something to be transplanted in its entirety from "the West" and not as something developing in our own national soil; to consider it unnecessary to undertake a critical re-evaluation of our ancient culture as a necessary prerequisite for the development of our new national culture; to ignore the relationship between the old and the new culture - all these are antihistorical and harmful views. Yet there are not a few literary and artistic workers and youth who blindly admire "the West" and slight our own national literary and artistic tradition, popular art forms and the interests and tastes of the people. This is in fact a typical expression of a lack of national self-confidence and of the mass viewpoint. This is a serious obstacle to the popularisation and development of literature and art.

Of course, we are not chauvinists. We must learn from other countries and especially from the Soviet Union. Socialist realistic literature and art are the most beneficial spiritual food for the Chinese people and the broad ranks of the intelligentsia and youth. We must improve and extend our work on translations. The purpose of learning from the experiences of the progressive countries is for the specific purpose of enlarging our own experiences. We should respect other people's history and cultural tradition and we should particularly respect our own national history and cultural tradition, otherwise, we are no true patriots and no true internationalists. A real internationalist cannot afford to go to his friends empty-handed. Our literary and artistic techniques are quite insufficient, and we need to learn and to improve our techniques. But to learn techniques does not mean merely to imitate Western forms, rather, it means to develop and enrich our own national form.

The most important factor in literary form is language. Comrade Stalin said:

"...Proletarian culture, which is Socialist in content, adopts various forms and methods of expression, depending on the differences in language, customs, etc., of the various peoples participating in Socialist construction." (J. Stalin: Speech on The Political Tasks of the Eastern People's University)

Languages and customs must be learned from a study of the people's actual life and from our own national traditional literature and art. Comrade Mao Tse-tung gives prime importance to the study of languages and dialects. Of course, language is

p. 7

not the sole element in artistic literary form. There are other factors such as plot, etc. Our finest literary tradition excels in the brevity, vividness and spontaneity of its language, clarity in character depiction and logical development of the narrative. All these qualities are worth mastering.

We must overcome the defects which make literature lack mass appeal. The popularisation of literature cannot be separated from its national quality. Lu Hsun said:

"It is quite common in the history of literature that when the old literature declines, a renaissance is achieved by absorbing folk literature and foreign literature."

Such a renaissance has already occurred in China. It is in fact exemplified by the development of the new Chinese literature from the stage of the "May Fourth Movement" to Mao Tse-tung's speech at the Literary Discussion in Yenan. We must exert every effort to complete this renaissance.

In order to develop the great tradition in our national arts, we must carry out, on a wide scale, the work of collection, systematisation and research as well as the work of reforming the old artistic forms which are still popular among the people.

We have, for instance, a rich legacy in the drama. Many fine historical tales and legends have been preserved and these dramatic forms are still well loved by the broad masses of the people today. There are many styles of dramatic art in the country. We should continue to do serious research work in and reform the various local dramas, folk plays and musical dialogues and develop them on a modern basis. According to Comrade Mao Tse-tung's instructions and the Instructions on the Reform of Dramas, issued by the Government Administrative Council of the Central People's Government, the main plan of dramatic reform is to encourage free competition among the various dramatic forms, so that all the finest forms can flourish together and new forms develop out of the old.

With respect to music, our researches into folk music should be continued and at the same time particular attention should be paid to research in and the reform of Chinese dramatic music, musical dialogues and Chinese national instrumental music. The dances of the various fraternal nationalities are rich and healthy in outlook and should be widely collected, studied and developed. With respect to painting, the correct tradition in Chinese painting should be followed and further developed. In the difficult work of research into and systematic classification of the legacy of Chinese literature, a first priority is the study of the history of modern Chinese literature.

We have the deepest respect for our own national literary and artistic heritage. But we cannot praise everything indiscriminately. We must examine this heritage in a strictly scientific manner. From the entire legacy we must absorb only the "democratic cream" and resolutely "clean out the feudal rubbish." That portion of the "democratic cream," which we accept as the great tradition, we develop on a modern basis. We do not consider the national art forms fixed and immutable. Rather, we consider them as developing and continually being transformed in the process of practice. On the question of the arts, as on all other questions, we adopt the viewpoint of development and not of conservatism. What we aim at in literary and artistic work is not the preservation of the old national literature and art forms, but rather the development of a new national literature and art.

Strengthen Criticism and Self-criticism, Combat Liberalism and Vulgarity

Chinese literature and art today comprises a united front which includes the different tendencies of the workers, peasants, the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie. But the guiding direction must be given by proletarian thought, Marxism-Leninism and the teachings of Mao Tse-tung. All Communist Party members and revolutionary workers in the arts must increase their knowledge of Marxism-Leninism as a prerequisite for the cultivation of their creative thought, the raising of their artistic level and the development of their militant spirit. We must adopt the Marxist-Leninist viewpoint and method in order to sweep away the ideological influences of imperialism and feudalism, and at the same time, criticise the erroneous thoughts of the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry.

We must overcome both routine methods and vulgarity in the leadership given to literary and artistic work. "Routine" leadership is thoughtless leadership. It neglects to direct the literary and artistic tasks from a political and ideological standpoint. It fails to take into consideration the specific qualities of creative activity and criticism. It gets bogged down in the routine methods of bare administration instead of showing the delicate qualities of creative thought that are needed.

There is the need also to overcome the liberalism and the vulgarity of style which still exist among some of our cultural workers.

These find expression in an uncritical attitude towards all antagonistic and erroneous ideologies, giving rise to an attitude conducive to a peaceful co-existence with such ideologies without struggling against them and even agreeing with them. These find an expression in a dislike of criticism and refusal to be criticised under various pretenses; either of "friendship" or of false pride which results in, incorrect and unprincipled relationships between literary and artistic workers and vulgarisation of the serious business of struggle between the ideologies.

We must overcome all these bad styles of work, and the main method to adopt is criticism and selfcriticism. We must further raise the political level of our criticism and unite this with factual analyses of particular artistic works. We must struggle with all unhealthy tendencies in literary and artistic work on the one hand and on the other discover and encourage new forces, new results and new experiences in literature and the other arts. The defects in our literary and artistic work can surely be overcome under Mao Tse-tung's direction and with the care and guidance of the Central Committee of the Party and Comrade Mao Tse-tung himself. Let us overcome our defects and continue our advance. Let us continue to strive for the complete triumph of Mao Tse-tung's art policy on the entire battlefront of literature and the arts!

p. 8


Search website:

Share: