Luta's Worker-ArtistsOriginally published in:
China Reconstructs, August 1973, pp. 29-31
The northeastern port of Luta is a city with a thriving art movement among the workers. They are in the forefront of the struggle - the class struggle and that for production and for scientific experiment, which Chairman Mao Tsetung defines as the three great revolutionary movements for building socialism. Their creations, done in their spare time, portraying new things and new people in the life of today, have been an inspiration to the city's other workers in the socialist revolution and in their tasks for socialist construction.
They often provide illustrations for workplace blackboard newspapers and wall-paintings for the streets. Some of their pictures have been exhibited at worksites and in street galleries. They have been steadily increasing and maturing as a result of Chairman Mao's revolutionary line for literature and art. Luta now has over 300 of them in some 20 amateur art groups jointly sponsored by the city and/or factories where the members work.
The group at the Talien Locomotive Plant has grown from 5 before the cultural revolution to 18, both
men and women, ranging in age from 19 to 42. Among them are four veteran workers of over 20 years. The plant provides a studio and equipment and materials including brushes, ink, paper, paints, canvasses and blocks and tools for making woodcuts.
The worker-artists have made fast progress as a result of support from the plant's Communist Party committee. Hu Chuan-chih, an electric welder there since 1949, is an example. He had always liked to draw and often did illustrations for wall newspapers in his shop. The plant arranged for him to attend city-sponsored spare-time art classes. Through hard work he brought about a marked improvement in his technique, and has produced a number of excellent works. A recent one is the woodcut "Rolling Out of the Plant". He got the idea one day as he stood watching diesel locomotives coming off the line for the first time. The model had been designed in the plant. Hu recalled the time when the plant had done only repairs, not even production, to say nothing of designing. He tried to express the workers' pride of accomplishment at the fast development of the country's diesel locomotive production in a woodcut.
Yen Feng-chiao, a worker at the Luta Transport Company, had been much impressed by the story of the fishing boat Changyu No. 7, whose crew risked their lives to save 16 Luta fishermen caught in a sudden unusually fierce snowstorm. With the intention of doing something on the incident, he got leave from his job to live and work for a period on the Changyu No. 7. He had thought that the boat, having bested winds of full gale force, would be a large modern fishing vessel. He found it was only a 30-meter-long wooden junk with a 60-horsepower motor and a crew of ten. He learned how Chang Liang-shan, the chief engineer, had stayed at his post in the hot, stuffy engine compartment for three days and nights in succession during the rescue. When Yen went down into the engine compartment to make some sketches he wondered how Chang could have stood it, for when he himself came up he almost passed out and had to be helped to the cabin.
The crew took the boat to the spot of the rescue. Unfortunately for Yen the landlubber, just then a stiff breeze blew up. Though suffering from seasickness, he kept on working with the crew as they cast and hauled the nets and sorted the fish. In this way he got to know them well and learned much from their good points. In the ten days he was with them he was able to make a lot of vivid sketches of the fishermen in their struggle with nature. Afterward he worked these up into a set of 57 drawings which were widely displayed in poster form.
Ma Hsueh-li, a worker at the Talien Freezer Plant, spent over a year making the color woodcut "Each Day Is New, Each Month Different", about a shipyard. When he asked workers in the shipyard what they thought of his initial design, they said it was just a view of the yard but didn't express the workers' spirit. "It's more like a photograph than a work of art," they said. He spent two periods living and working there trying to absorb the spirit, and made a second and a third design before he decided on the final one.
The woodcut shows night work on a 10,000-ton ship. Viewed from a low angle, the hull of the ship rises up strong and magnificent to dominate the picture. The towering crane, the sparks from the welders, the figures of the workers are a perfect complement to it. Detailed delineation of people and surroundings bring out the verve with which the workers are building ships for the revolution.
The Luta worker-artists have set themselves the task of fulfilling whatever demand the revolution places on them. This rises out of the fact that they follow the principle that art should serve the workers, peasants and soldiers and serve proletarian politics and so-cialism. Their works, full of meaning, cover a wide range of themes and pulsate with life. "Workers Study Philosophy", a painting in the Chinese traditional style, reflects the earnestness with which the workers are studying the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tsetung. The woodcut "Study" and the poster "Good Quality, High Output" show scenes from the movement for industrial workers to learn from the Taching oilfield. Both the woodcut "Our Village Gets a Lathe" and the gouache "Between Workers and Peasants There Is Deep Friendship" express the new relationship between them.
Within the past four years the worker-artists of this city have produced several thousand works. Over 300 have been shown in exhibitions in the city or province or in national shows. Reproductions have been made of about 1,000.
Over the years close relations of cooperation and mutual help have developed between the amateurs and the city's professional art circles. Luan Wan-chu, a railway signalman, first conceived the idea for his picture "All Clear" after helping with emergency repairs on a line in the winter of 1971. He roughed out a sketch but lacked the technical hand to execute it. He was able to finish it with help from Wen Chung-sheng, a painter in the Chinese traditional style. The painting, which shows a signalwoman triumphantly reporting back to headquarters over a newly-repaired line, is a successful use of the traditional style to depict a scene of labor. The snowflakes whirling in the wind in the background bring out the young woman's spirit of revolutionary optimism in the face of difficulties. A loaded freight train speeding by below points up the "all clear" theme. The picture presents a fresh treatment, with lively characterization and careful attention to shading.