China is sending artists to the countryside to ‘form a correct view of art’
In a move channeling the Mao Zedong era, the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV [SARFT] announced that artists, filmmakers and TV personalities will be sent to the countryside to learn from the masses.
Some of the chosen ones will live in rural villages for at least a month to experience local life, while others will be shipped off to areas considered significant to China’s revolutionary past. One TV crew has already been drafted to visit a famous battle site to seek inspiration for an animated series, according to the BBC.
The announcement came after President Xi Jinping (a man of the masses) lectured a group of artists about promoting socialist values within their work rather than using « vulgar » means for commercial gain, AFP reports.
China’s media watchdog « will organise film and TV series production staff on a quarterly basis to go to grassroots communities, villages and mining sites to do field study and experience life », the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a statement by the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.
Scriptwriters, directors, broadcasters and anchors will also be sent to work and live for at least 30 days « in ethnic minority and border areas, and areas that made major contributions to the country’s victory in the revolutionary war », Xinhua added.
The move « will be a boost in helping artists form a correct view of art and create more masterpieces, » Xinhua said, citing the media administration.
Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong, described it as « rectification campaign » echoing Mao’s Cultural Revolution, only more targeted. »This campaign is a bit different in the sense that as long as you don’t challenge the authorities – as long as you keep quiet – you are safe to keep making money, » he was quoted as saying in the AFP report.
In Xi’s October speech, likened to a famous one made by Mao in the 40s, the president told artists not to become « slaves to the market ».
« Fine art works should be like sunshine from blue sky and breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles, » he said.
Dissident artists like Ai Weiwei have long struggled with censorship more so than the understanding of everyday people in China. Ai has been banned from leaving the country since his passport was confiscated by authorities three years ago.
Chinese state media has announced government plans to dispatch artists, filmmakers, and TV crews to rural areas to help artists and townspeople form « correct » views on art, according to the Guardian. The plan follows on the heels of a fresh ban on wordplay and puns, and has drawn comparisons to Mao Zedong’s tactics during China’s Cultural Revolution, when intellectuals and artists were sent to labor alongside peasants on public works projects.
In an October address to an assembly of prominent Chinese artists, authors, actors, dancers, and screenwriters in Beijing, President Xi Jinping warned artists against becoming slaves to the marketplace and stressed the importance of patriotism in their work. He said it was important for art to encourage a « correct » view of history and promote national pride.
Xi said artists should avoid creating work tainted by the « stench of money, » according to state news agency Xinhua. « Fine art works should be like sunshine from blue sky and breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles, » he said.
Back in October, Chinese media outlets compared Xi’s comments on the role of the arts to iconic 1942 remarks by Mao Zedong at the Ya’nan Forum. In that speech, Mao told his audience that a military army would not be enough to ensure the success of Communism and the liberation of the Chinese people; a cultural army would also be necessary.
In today’s China, Xi’s ramped-up pushback against state corruption has been coupled with increased regulation and scrutiny directed at the arts. Xi’s crackdown has involved banning scenes of one-night stands and adultery on TV, forbidding the broadcast of movies starring actors who have used drugs, and seizing 82 pounds of gold and the deeds for 168 houses from the home of one senior Party official.
Just last week, the country’s media regulators denounced puns and called for tighter censorship of them, citing that puns lead to « cultural and linguistic chaos. » Strict regulation of language is nothing new in China. Earlier this year the People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Communist Party, condemned the influx of foreign words like « WiFi » and « VIP » into the popular Chinese vernacular. The idea that language is linked to deeper cultural values can be traced back to tight linguistic control under what some have termed Mao’s program of « linguistic engineering. »
China has nearly a quarter of the share of the international art market, according to the BBC, but it remains to be seen how Xi’s arts and media policy changes will affect the global art market at large. In the meantime, as the Wall Street Journal notes in a cruelly ironic headline, there’s « Nowhere to Pun. »