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36 Daqing flowers on the banks of the Yangzi River drawn in the summer of 1974 at the Nanjing Petroleum Chemical Factory

Song Wenzhi

Poster 77 x 54cm
Jiangsu People’s Art Publishers
Courtesy of Harriet Evans, collection of the University of Westminster

This image was painted by Song Wenzhi for a national exhibition. The artist went to the Nanjing Petroleum Chemical Factory to do the sketches in the summer of 1974. He lived and worked at the factory for almost a month. As with other large state run enterprises, the company provided health care, education, postal service, and transportation, and operated like a complete mini society. Workers and managers and their families worked and lived everyday life within this small city. In the process of making the sketches, Song Wenzhi suffered a heart attack.

The propaganda in this painting is not particularly strident. This painting depicts an idealized, beautified industrial city with tidy and clean workshops and infrastructure. The city is situated on the banks of the Yangzi, near Mount Qixia in Nanjing whose red maple leaves in autumn are famous for their beauty. In this painting they are exaggerated and the whole mountain is covered in red.

Berthed in the distance is the ‘Daqing tanker’. The discovery of the Daqing oil field in Heilongjinag in 1963 resolved the long-term problem of China’s reliance on foreign oil. In 1964, Mao introduced the slogan ‘In Industry, learn from Daqing’ to encourage workers to work hard for the development of Chinese industry. By the end of the Cultural Revolution, at the time of Deng Xiaoping’s proposed measures in 1974 or 1975 to develop the economy, it was once again stressed. The slogan is positioned in the middle of the poster. However, it is small and not obvious, and differs from the depiction of the slogan of ‘In Agriculture, learn from Dazhai’ in Dazhai and Surroundings. Although both slogans were banners of the Cultural Revolution, ‘Daqing’ was never as popular as ‘Dazhai’, and consequently, the number of related propaganda posters was much smaller.

Two paintings were produced over the period of a year. The two works differ in that this one is in autumn colours, and the other painting is of spring. At the same time, the oversized work reflects the huge scale of the plant. The factory building is the most important thing in the work. The landscape is secondary, and thus runs contrary to traditional Chinese painting.

This painting shows an industrial subject and the southern Chinese landscape at the same time. This type of painting first appeared in the early period after liberation. Artists were compelled to change Chinese painting and go out to the factories and into the countryside to sketch. In the Cultural Revolution it was stressed that drawing was in the service of politics and the proletariat. Song Wenzhi uses Chinese ink painting to depict the blast furnace and factory and the industrial environment. It is typical of the New Jinling style. Traditional Chinese painting over the last 1000 years uses water and ink with mineral colors on thin xuanzhi paper. From the Qing Dynasty it has been used principally to represent landscapes, and for self-expression. It is very different from Western oil painting and engraving that represents reality. In the 1950s and 60s, the challenge for artists was how to reflect Communist China through traditional painting. In the 1960s, the New Jinling Art Movement emerged in Nanjing. They enacted a change in style by changing the subject matter of their works, and became an important influence in the art world. Their guiding philosophy was that ‘the brush and ink follow the times’.

Song Wenzhi was a central figure in the New Jinling Art Movement. He was an apprentice at an advertising agency in Shanghai before enrolling in the Suzhou Art School. In 1957 he became a painter at the Suzhou Chinese Painting Academy, and later, a professor at Nanjing University. His works are in collections at the National Art Museum of China and the Chinese People’s Revolution Military Museum in Beijing, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the US, and the Fukuoka Art Gallery in Japan.

The draft version of this work was auctioned in 2008 for RMB 1,512,000.