Shen Yen-ping, New Developments in Culture and Art

Originally published in:
People's China 1952 n. 22 (16 November), pp. 29-33

The author of this text is Mao Dun (矛盾, 1896-1981, pseudonym of Shen Yanbing, born as Shen Dehong; in this publication the transcription 'Shen Yen-ping' is used), one of China's most famous writers of realist novels and short stories of the 20th century. He was one of the first writers to join the Communist Party after its foundation in 1921. From 1949 to 1964, he was Minister of Culture. He also was the editor of the monthly literary journal Chinese Literature. Mao Dun spent the Cultural Revolution under house arrest, but survived, and was rehabilitated. He was elected chairman of the Chinese Writers' Association in 1978. He established the prestigious Mao Dun Literature Prize for novels, first awarded in 1982. His former residence in Beijing has been preserved and is a house-museum nowadays. Among Mao Dun's best known novels are Disillusion (1928) and Midnight (1933).


In accordance with the directives given by Chairman Mao Tse-tung and the provisions of the Common Programme, the basic law of the People's Republic of China, the fundamental principle of cultural and artistic work in New China is to turn its face to serve the needs of the workers, peasants and soldiers; to popularise the arts, in the first place, and to elevate their level on the basis of popularisation; to critically assimilate and develop the national cultural and artistic heritage; and to develop new cultural and artistic enterprises systematically and with special emphasis on certain fields. There are some achievements to be shown as a result of the past three years of endeavour in the field of cultural and artistic work, and the following is a brief review of some of the most important of these.


Film Successes

The people's cinema is a key point in our work. Several excellent feature films have been produced such as Steeled Fighters, The White-Haired Girl, Daughters of China, New Heroes and Heroines, The People's Fighters, The Victory of the Inner Mongolian People, Chao I-Man, Red Banner Over Mount Tsui Kang and Shang-Jao Concentration Camp. These films have profoundly reflected various aspects of the life of the Chinese people's struggle; they have portrayed the lofty character of the new type of people's heroes who have arisen out of the revolutionary struggles and the peaceful

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construction of China; they have vividly propagated the spirit of patriotism and internationalism. At the same time, we have also produced a number of excellent documentary films, such as The Victorious Crossing of the Yangtse, Victory Song of the Southwest, The Red Flag Unfurls in the Northwest, The Great Unity of China's Nationalities, Happy Sinkiang, Liberation of Tibet, Resist American Aggression and Aid Korea (Part One), The Huai River Must Be Harnessed! and the two documentaries in colour: The Victory of the Chinese People and Liberated China produced in co-operation with the Soviet Union.

These films are truthful records of the brilliant achievements of the revolutionary war of the Chinese people and the construction of New China in many fields. All these films have gained great popularity at home and also been warmly welcomed and praised abroad. The feature films Daughters of China, Steeled Fighters and The People's Fighters and the documentary films The Great Unity of China's Nationalities and Resist American Aggression and Aid Korea (Part One) have received awards at various international film festivals. Special mention must be made here of our cameramen, who, like the fighters, have stood at their posts on the battle fronts, and have even given their precious lives in the execution of their duties.

During the past three years, China has produced a total of 86 feature films (including 51 made by private studios before 1951), 57 documentary films and has dubbed with Chinese dialogue 101 films from the Soviet Union and the People's Democracies.

Before liberation, the motion picture market in the major cities was controlled by the American imperialists. Now, their poisonous films, filled with obscenity and propagandising the so-called "American way of life," instruments of cultural aggression, have been contemptuously rejected by our cinema-goers. Cinema audiences totalled 146,380,000 in 1950; during the first half of 1952 this increased to 213,500,000; that is to say, each person will, on the average, have one visit to the cinema this year. There are now 757 cinemas and 1,800 projection teams in the country. This, of course, falls far short of the needs of the masses. The urgent task of the moment, therefore, is to establish a nation-wide projection network so that motion pictures can be seen in all the factories, villages and even in remote regions. The increase in the number of projection teams is the keypoint in the field of motion picture distribution.

Theatre Developments

Another focal point in our work is the development of the people's drama and the reform of the traditional dramatic arts.

China has an extremely rich theatrical heritage. There are many types of local operatic performance. There are now about 2,000 operatic groups, and the number of operatic artists is approximately 200,000 (not including amateur operatic groups in rural districts). The daily theatre attendance throughout the country approaches the million mark. These figures alone show how important is the role played by the theatre in the life of the people.

In November, 1950, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the Central People's Government called an All-China Theatrical Work Conference, which surveyed the situation in regard to the reform of the traditional theatre in various areas. On May 5, 1951, the Government Administration Council issued a directive concerning the reform of operas, which clearly stipulates that the correct principle to be observed is to "Let Flowers of All Seasons Flourish Together! Improve the Old and Create the New!" That is to say: preserve and develop all that is best in the old operas while weeding out the undesirable, backward and anti-realistic elements developed during the long period of feudal society, so that the national operatic art will become one able to educate the masses of the people in the spirit of New Democracy and patriotism. At the same time, encouragement must be given to all the various types of drama so that they will flourish together in competition.

During the last three years, the repertoire of the old theatre has been given a careful preliminary sifting, and part of it will be made reserve items. There are a large number of new plays written every year, and many have become popular favourites. Provincial types of opera like ping chu, Shaohsing and Shanghai opera, and the many varieties of light entertainment and concert genres have all gained successful experience in dealing with themes of modern life. In all the big cities, actors and theatre workers of the old type have had preliminary courses of political study, and their political consciousness has been enhanced. After completing such courses, many actors and theatre-workers have, in fact, become the backbone of the movement for the reform of the old

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dramatic arts. At the same time, they have gradually and voluntarily discarded many irrational institutions in the old-fashioned dramatic troupes and companies.

In order to increase research work and experiments in the dramatic arts, to raise the artistic level of dramatic writing and to train new dramatic talent among the younger generation, a China Research Institute of the Dramatic Arts has been established in Peking. Similar institutions have also been set up in the major administrative areas.

There are at present some 250 cultural troupes that grew up during the time of the revolutionary wars whose main task is to perform plays, modern operas, dances and musical numbers. They have carried their art to the countryside, the industrial and mining areas and the armed forces over long periods, conducting propaganda and educational work in connection with the various political tasks of the day. At the same time, in the course of their work, they have trained large numbers of young cultural cadres. The performances they have given at various places of The White-Haired Girl, Wang Kuei and Li Hsiang-hsiang, Wang Hsiu-luan, Liu Hu-lan, Song of the Red Flag and other new operas and plays have exerted a great educational influence over the broad masses of the people.

Beginning this year, these cultural troupes have been reorganised, and a policy of specialisation has been adopted for the future. Most of the troupes will gradually become specialised theatrical troupes whose main tasks will be the establishment and development of regular theatre performances, while the rest will remain as mobile troupes, whose main task will be to give guidance and assistance to the cultural activities of the masses.

New Year Pictures and Picture Story-books

New Year pictures and picture story-books have also performed a great propaganda and educational service among the broad masses of the people. Four hundred and twelve kinds of new New Year pictures were published throughout the country in 1950, in editions totalling over 7 million copies; in 1952, over 570 kinds were published, in editions totalling over 40 million copies. The reason why New Year pictures have been warmly received by the masses is that they vividly express the life and aspirations of the labouring people, and are in a national art style. The masses not only buy these pictures during the Chinese New Year Festival, but on ordinary days as well. In the villages, New Year pictures have become a propaganda medium with a broad mass basis. In order to encourage their creation, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs has, since 1950, held two New Year picture contests.

In recent years, there have also been improvements in the work of editing and drawing the picture story-books (also known as "Books for Children"). Those old picture story-books which were often absurd in content and ugly in form have been gradually discarded, while new ones with a new content and beauty of form have been able to meet partially the demand of their readers. According to statistics from Shanghai, Peking and the Northeast at the end of 1951, a total of 2,000 titles of new picture story-books had already been published and more than 31 million copies of them have

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been circulated. In order to give guidance to and expand the influence of the picture storybooks, the People's Fine Arts Publishing House in 1951 launched the periodical Picture Stories which has reached a peak circulation of 387,000 copies.

Nation-wide Cultural Network

During the past three years, a great deal has been achieved in the work of establishing a nation-wide network of cultural organisations and of strengthening the basic organisations that already exist. Libraries and museums form an important part of this cultural network. There are now 59 public libraries of the provincial and municipal level or above (school libraries and other institutional libraries are not included in this figure), and there are 40 museums (of which 14 are newly built). But this figure is clearly not able to satisfy the needs of the people.

The basic organisations of this nation-wide cultural network are, however, people's cultural centres and cultural points. There are now 2,436 cultural centres (one in nearly every county) and over 6,000 cultural points (cultural points are established in districts within a county). There is a total of about 20,000 clubs and reading rooms in factories and villages. These latter are mass organisations, and the cultural centre or point has the responsibility of providing them with guidance and help.

The sphere of work of cultural centres or points is to publicise government policies and arrange the discussion of current events; popularise scientific and hygienic knowledge; organise mass cultural activities, and promote the campaign for the wiping out of illiteracy. Such work brings them into daily contact with the broad labouring masses of town and countryside. The consolidation and expansion of the organisation of cultural centres and points and the strengthening of leadership for their work is therefore an important link in the establishment of a nation-wide cultural network. In addition to books and pictures, the cultural centres are equipped with radios, magic lanterns and phonographs. These are important aids in carrying out their tasks. The magic lanterns have already become the most welcome acquisition of the country people, and their educational value is very great. To further develop their use and to rationalise the manufacture of magic lanterns, slides and films, and to raise their quality, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs has now established the Chinese Magic Lantern Company.

Art Reflects the New Life

We have mentioned above-the present state of development in several important fields of cultural and artistic work. But the pivotal point of cultural and artistic work is the development and improvement of creative work. During the last three years, the various artistic works produced still fell far short of the needs of our rapidly advancing country and people. They do, however, reflect to a certain extent and on a certain scale, the history of the various struggles of the Chinese people for their liberation; they reflect the building of our Motherland and the new life and new people during the last three years.

Particularly noteworthy are such literary creations as The Flames Are Ahead by Liu Pai-yu, Wall of Steel by Liu Ching, Fire Rages Over the Plain by Hsu Kuang-yao and Living Hell (The Pond of Living People) by Chen Teng-ko, all of which describe the history of the struggles of the Chinese people and the Chinese people's armed forces. Those Most to Be Loved by Wei Wei and other works describe the heroic deeds of the Chinese people's volunteers in resisting U.S. aggression and aiding Korea; and Registration by Chao Shu-li, New Ways of Doing New Things by Ku Yu, Marriage (The Wedding Day) by Ma Feng, People of the Kulchin Steppe by Malasinfu and other works describe the new life and new thought of the labouring people after liberation.

In the field of drama, such works as the opera Wang Kuei and Li Hsiang-hsiang, the plays Dragon Beard Ditch, 'Matured in Battle and Face to Face With New Things have truthfully reflected various aspects of the deeds and heroism of the Chinese people in their struggles for liberation, in defence of their Motherland and in the creation of their new life.

Many excellent works have also been produced in the fields of music and the fine arts. Songs like All The World's People Have One Heart, Sing of the Motherland, Battle Songs of the Chinese People's Volunteers, All the Peoples of the World Unite; and New Year picture posters like "Chao Kuei-lan at the Meeting of Labour Heroes" by Lin Kang, "In Defence of Peace" by Teng Shu, "The Bride Speaks" by Yen Han, "Chairman Mao Talking With the Peasants" by Ku Yuan forcefully express the Chinese people's love of their Motherland and their leader and

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their determination to safeguard peace and their happy life.

Writers of the People

We should stress the fact that quite a number of talented literary and artistic creators have emerged from the masses of the workers, peasants and soldiers, such as Chen Teng-ko, author of Living Hell (The Pond of Living People), Kao Yu-pao, who has completed the first draft of an autobiographical novel of 200,000 characters. Both are of poor peasant origin. The authors of Gate No. 6, No Longer a Cicada, Loading and Unloading, and many others are workers directly engaged in production. Among the works that received awards in the literary and artistic contests on Army Day of August 1 this year, quite a number were the works of fighters in the ranks.

Thanks to the basic completion of land reform on a nation-wide scale and as a result of the improvement in the living conditions of the broad labouring people, the people's demand for culture and art has become increasingly more urgent. As has been stated above, considerable achievements have been attained in the sphere of culture and art during the past three years, but these achievements still lag far behind the demands of the people. One of the main causes for this lag has been the phenomenon of divorce from politics and from the masses seriously prevailing among literary and cultural workers, the existence of anti-historical ideas and formulistic tendencies* in their thinking in regard to creative works and an insufficient development of the practice of criticism and self-criticism.

The movement for ideological remoulding which began at the end of last year revealed and criticised the causes of the confusion in thinking of the literary and artistic circles. It pointed out that only by studying the teachings of Mao Tse-tung, by forging close ties with the masses, by throwing themselves into the actual struggle and by remoulding themselves could the literary and artistic workers better serve the people. This movement was one of the most extensive ideological remoulding movements that literary and artistic circles have ever participated in. No less than 15,000 literary and artistic cadres have taken part in it. It has achieved great results. Through this movement, literary and artistic workers have succeeded in exposing the roots of their bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies. They have cleared up the confusion in their ideas on literature and art and corrected their attitude to creative work. A large number of literary and artistic workers went to the factories, villages and the army, and took part in the actual struggles of the masses. This has prepared conditions for the future development and elevation of the level of our creative work, that is to say, this has prepared the condition for further development of literary and artistic work throughout the country in the coming period.

Such are some of the main achievements of New China in cultural and artistic work during the past three years. Literary and artistic workers, together with the people of the whole country, will jointly build a prosperous, happy new China.

*) A tendency to write or create according to ready-made formulas. - Ed. P.C.

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