Originally published in:
Painting Pictures of Chairman Mao is our greatest happiness
China Reconstructs October 1968, pp. 2-6
LIU CHUN-HUA, a Red Guard of 24, studies at the Central Academy of Industrial Arts. He did the painting of "Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan", which was collectively designed and planned by a group of students of Peking's universities and institutes.
Chairman Mao received the Red Guards on many occasions during this great and unprecedented proletarian cultural revolution. Each time I saw Chairman Mao's stalwart figure and kindly face, waving his hand to us, my heart was thrilled and excited. I shouted at the top of my voice, "Long live Chairman Mao! Long, long life to Chairman Mao!" In these moments I longed to use my paints and brush to portray our great leader, the red sun in our hearts, for the masses of revolutionary people!
For a long period before the cultural revolution, art, like all culture in our country, was controlled by China's Khrushchov and his accomplices. A sinister dictatorship of the counter-revolutionary revisionist line ruled. Opposing Chairman Mao's revolutionary line on literature and art, these traitors used every means to suppress any revolutionary artist who wanted to create works to serve the workers, peasants and soldiers. They viciously prevented "nobodies" like me from portraying the glorious image of Chairman Mao.
But no one can halt the advance of history. With a tremendous roar, the flames of the cultural revolution consumed the scheme of China's Khrushchov to usurp the Party and the state. It aroused
millions of workers and peasants. In the process, the counter-revolutionary line in literature and art was smashed.
Responding to Chairman Mao's call to rebel against the reactionaries, my comrades and I, armed with brush and pen, left our schools and went out into the streets to propagate Mao Tse-tung's thought and his proletarian revolutionary line. We painted portraits of Chairman Mao and posters bearing his image on billboards in the streets. In order to propagandize each step of Chairman Mao's strategic plan in the cultural revolution, we often painted around the clock. Sometimes, too exhausted to go on, we just stretched out on the ground to snatch a bit of sleep. Each time we finished a poster of Chairman Mao, workers, peasants, soldiers, young Red Guards and others passing by would gather and stand for a long time looking at it. The smiling and eager faces of everyone from white-haired old men to lively schoolchildren showed us the deep love and veneration the masses have for our great leader. This urgent desire of the masses to see Chairman Mao's picture increased my creative urge and sense of responsibility. It reminded me of Chairman Mao's teaching: "Our culture is a people's culture. Our cultural workers must serve the people with great enthusiasm and devotion, and they must link themselves with the masses, not divorce themselves from the masses." I was resolved to take up my brushes
and make more and better pictures of Chairman Mao.
My family for generations were poor peasants toiling on the land of the rich. My father settled in Heilungkiang after he had fled from a famine in Liaoning. Often he would say to me, "Because of Chairman Mao, we have new China and live the good life we have today. Because of Chairman Mao, you, the son of a poor peasant, can go to college and learn painting." Every one of our family has a deep love for Chairman Mao. Never once have I become tired of looking at Chairman Mao's pictures. On the contrary, the more I look, the more I feel that he is close to me. Since childhood I have liked to draw pictures of him. I collected many photographs of him, looked at these every day and learned how to do a good picture of him. The more I paint, the more I feel Chairman Mao is dear to me. Even so, using all the paints and brushes in the world I could hardly express my deep love and veneration for our great leader.
Last July, a number of students from Peking universities and institutes helped prepare an exhibition called "Mao Tse-tung's Thought Illuminates the Anyuan Workers' Movement", jointly sponsored by proletarian revolutionaries of Peking, Anyuan and other parts of Kiangsi. My assignment was to do an oil painting showing Chairman Mao on his way to the Anyuan Coal Mines in the autumn of 1921. I am a student of arts and crafts and had never been taught oil painting, so there was a great deal of difficulty. I was both excited and a little frightened by the task.
However, the memory of the people in the streets showing so clearly their love for Chairman Mao revived my courage and gave me strength. I told myself: with a red heart devoted to Chairman Mao, what difficulties are there that I cannot overcome? As long as I listen to Chairman Mao's instructions, learn from the masses with an open mind, be a faithful spokesman of the people, love what they love and paint what they want, what assignment is there that I cannot fulfil?
Chairman Mao says that art and literature workers should "go
among the masses" and "into the heat of struggle". Therefore, we decided to visit the Anyuan Coal Mines where Chairman Mao personally lighted the flames of revolution. First we studied his writings and historical material on the Anyuan workers' movement. At Anyuan we held fact-finding forums at which we learned more about the workers' struggles from the old workers. Vividly and ardently, they recalled Chairman Mao's fighting life at Anyuan.
The facts are these: Chairman Mao visited Anyuan on several occasions between 1921 and 1930 to lead the heroic workers in revolutionary struggles. He left a deep impression on the people there. It was Chairman Mao who lit the spark of revolution in Anyuan, educated the workers in Marxism-Leninism and founded the Party and Youth League organizations there. It was he who made the wise decision to launch a big strike in Anyuan and called on the workers to struggle resolutely. It was Chairman Mao who, while in Anyuan, planned the famous Autumn Harvest Uprising, built the first workers' and peasants' army and led it to the Chingkang Mountains, thus opening up the road for the encirclement of the cities from the countryside and for the seizure of political power by armed force. The great revolutionary practice of Chairman Mao in Anyuan is an epic of heroism and grandeur. (See story on p. 36)
For a long period, China's Khrushchov arrogantly distorted history by claiming that he, and not Chairman Mao, had led the Anyuan workers' struggle. He made arrangements with a group of class enemies to produce expensive paintings and films and fabricate stories which portrayed himself, a scab and clown, as "the hero who led the Anyuan workers in struggle". These intolerable crimes aroused our intense hatred. We, the Red Guards of Chairman Mao, vowed to do our part to correct this distortion of history.
Chairman Mao teaches us that our purpose is "to ensure that literature and art fit well into the whole revolutionary machine as a component part, that they operate as powerful weapons for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and destroying the enemy, and that they help the people fight the enemy with one heart and one mind." With the greatest love for Chairman Mao and burning hatred for China's Khrushchov, we started on this oil painting. We felt that we were not just wielding our brushes but were fighting in defence of Chairman Mao and his revolutionary line, exposing China's Khrushchov and dealing him ruthless blows.
As the most essential thing in creating the painting was to present the glorious image and great thinking of Chairman Mao in his youth, every detail should contribute to this. We had an extensive collection of articles and poems written by Chairman Mao in his youth, reminiscences of his revolutionary activities and historical data about Anyuan. We studied and discussed these materials.
We placed Chairman Mao in the forefront of the painting, tranquil, far-sighted and advancing towards us like a rising sun bringing hope to the people. We strove to give every line of his figure significance. His head held high and slightly turned conveys his revolutionary spirit, dauntless before danger and violence, courageous in struggle and daring to win. His clenched fist depicts his revolutionary will, fearless of sacrifice, determined to surmount every difficulty to free China and mankind, con-
fident in victory. The old umbrella under his arm reveals his style of hard work and plain living, travelling in all weather over great distances, across mountains and rivers, for the revolutionary cause. Striding firmly over rugged terrain, Chairman Mao is seen blazing the trail for us, breaking past obstacles in the way of our advance and leading us forward in victory. The rising autumn wind, blowing his long hair and billowing his plain long gown, is the harbinger of the approaching revolutionary storm. A background of swift-moving clouds indicates that Chairman Mao is arriving in Anyuan at a moment of sharp class struggle, contrasting even more sharply with his calm and firm confidence.
We felt that the portrayal of Chairman Mao's facial expression was the most essential thing and also the most difficult. In fact, the success or failure of the whole painting depended on it. After repeated study and many visits with the workers, we became convinced that we should strive for an expression of Chairman Mao's broad proletarian outlook, his youthful vigour, his complete dedication to the affairs of the country. We should bring out his revolutionary heroism and revolutionary optimism so well expressed in his own words: "What boundless happiness to struggle against heaven, against earth and against men!" In short, we should get across to the onlookers the wisdom, preeminence and magnificent spirit of the great leader.
We collected and studied the few available photographs taken of Chairman Mao in his youth and made repeated studies and sketches from them, doing our best to capture his physical appearance and spirit in that period. We also collected and studied photographs taken at later periods. In this way the heroic spirit of Chairman Mao in his youth grew clearer and clearer to us and we could almost see him standing majestically in front of us.
In our mind, we seemed to be living in Anyuan during the 1920s, seeing with our own eyes the miserable plight of the miners, the wrath in the hearts of the suffering masses, hearing their cries for the early arrival of the great liberator. We seemed to see them looking eagerly towards the east, waiting for the sunrise.
We were very excited at the scene of Chairman Mao's arrival in Anyuan and felt we must put all this great historical event on canvas. I was to do the actual painting and I regarded it an honour and happiness to be able to undertake such a job. I wanted to reflect the finest impressions that the revolutionary people have of Chairman Mao.
I painted day and night. In the grip of creation. I often forgot to eat. I sought opinions from old workers and my comrades. Anyuan workers who took part in the struggles of early days volunteered to be our advisors. The many workers, peasants and soldiers who gave us their valuable opinions were really expressing their loyalty to Chairman Mao. Again and again I made changes in the painting, but it was collective wisdom and effort that decided the final composition and colour. Our painting was more than a fruit of collective wisdom, it was a crystallization of the love of millions for Chairman Mao.
Oil painting is a foreign art form which in China has long been monopolized by a handful of bourgeois elements and kept from being used to serve the workers, peasants and soldiers. Being Red Guards of Chairman Mao, we could not let this situation go unchallenged.
Chairman Mao teaches us, "Make the past serve the present and foreign things serve China." Comrade Chiang Ching encouraged us to dare to make innovations, not to be afraid of failure. Guided by Mao Tse-tung's thought on literature and art, we boldly broke away from foreign conventions in oil painting in an effort to create a "fresh, lively Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love". Starting from the theme of the picture and the wishes of the people, we tried to blend the rich power of expression of oil painting with the detailed delineation of Chinese traditionalstyle painting. The so-called "professionals" and "experts" scorned our endeavours. "You are not skilled enough," they said. "You haven't got the right colouring", or "This is like a calendar picture, not art". But the revolutionary masses gave us their warm approval which redoubled our courage and confidence, and we strove to create new proletarian art and unite the revolutionary political content with the highest possible perfection of artistic form.
"All our literature and art are for the masses of the people, and in the first place for the workers, peasants and soldiers; they are created for the workers, peasants and soldiers and are for their use," Chairman Mao teaches. We are new fighters on Chairman Mao's art front. We are determined to work for the workers, peasants and soldiers. Therefore we must start from the demands and likings of the masses of the people and not take on the standards of the bourgeois "authorities" as the basis of our creation. We are determined to follow Chairman Mao's revolutionary line on literature and art.
"Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan" has been seen by people throughout China, amidst songs of the all-round victory of the great proletarian cultural revolution. Credit for the painting's success must go to Chairman Mao's thinking and his revolutionary practice which have educated and inspired us, to Comrade Chiang Ching who has shown great care and warm support, and to the workers, peasants and soldiers who have given us patient help.
We are determined to look upon Comrade Chiang Ching as a glorious example, hold high the great red banner of Mao Tse-tung's thought, do our best in studying Chairman Mao's works and go among the workers, peasants and soldiers and into the storm of class struggle to remould ourselves thoroughly. We will fight indefatigably for the carrying out and defending of Chairman Mao's revolutionary line in literature and art.