Originally published in: 'New Chinese Woodcuts' - Supplement to China Reconstructs, May 1959, pp. 3-4.
Two things have been decisive in the development of the modern Chinese woodcut.
First, the art was nurtured in a revolutionary cradle. The 1930's, when it was born, were the darkest days of foreign aggression and Kuomintang tyranny. The artists adopted this new medium, and made full use of it, to speak for and to the people. Their powerful representations of the misery and bitter struggles of the oppressed did a great deal to arouse nationwide indignation against imperialism and reactionary rule.
In the days of the Japanese invasion, the woodcut artists increased their range. Besides continuing their fight for democracy, they recorded the heroic resistance of the popular forces and starkly exposed the brutality of the enemy. Militant involvement in all aspects of the people's struggle brought the art to quick maturity. In the period of the War of Liberation (1946-49) it developed still further.
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China the woodcut, like other art forms, received great encouragement. Art schools and academies set up special departments for training in this medium - continuing the tradition the Communist Party had inaugurated as long ago as the anti-Japanese war, when such instruction had been given in the Lu Hsun Academy of Arts in Yenan and other bases of people's resistance.
Now, as the whole nation engages in socialist labour to build a prosperous future, the main themes of the woodcut have become the new life and creative work, the joys and hopes of the people. This has been particularly noticeable since the "great leap" of last year.
The second characteristic in the development of the Chinese woodcut has been the evolution of national form and technique. Our country has its own fine tradition of wood-engraving. It goes back about a thousand years to the time when printing was first invented. But it came to a virtual halt around the 1880's with the introduction of photo-engraving and other modern methods of reproducing illustrations. By the time the modern woodcut artists began to work in the 1930's, taking much of their method from Kaethe Kollwitz and other proletarian graphic artists abroad, the old techniques were almost forgotten, except in some rural areas where "New Year Pictures" were still printed from wood blocks. The conscious quest for national forms began after Chairman Mao Tse-tung gave his celebrated talks on literature and art at Yenan in 1942. Artists and writers were urged to strengthen their ties with the people by working beside them, learning from them, speaking their language.
As a result, a great many fine works appeared in which folk traditions were successfully married to the new ideas and emotions. Many of today's artists are still experimenting in this direction - but they do not forget to learn from foreign artists too. The policy remains: "Let a hundred flowers bloom!" - for a rich, varied socialist culture. Originality and individual style are welcomed and encouraged. Better technical facilities have led to much wider use of colour than in the past.
Since 1954 there have been three national exhibitions of woodcuts, with thousands of entries. The small collection offered here is selected from work done in the past two years. In subject matter, it reflects some of the revolutionary past as well as the revolutionary present. This booklet is of course too small to be representative. But we hope it will give some idea of the spirit and quality of the Chinese woodcut today, as well as of the building of socialism which it reflects and assists.