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37 Our literature and art is all for the masses

Jinggangshan (Mount Jinggang) Commune of the Beijing Film Academy

Poster 66 x 55cm
People’s Art Publishing, Beijing
Courtesy of Harriet Evans, collection of the University of Westminster

This painting was produced by the Jinggangshan (Mount Jinggang) Community at the Beijing Film Academy. ‘Jinggangshan Community’ was a name that many Red Guard groups used during the early period of the Cultural Revolution.
The Community at the Beijing Film Academy produced large quantities of this sort of propaganda poster. The poster comes from a series of around 20 works in which Red Guards or characters from revolutionary plays accompany quotations from Mao Zedong against a simple or blank background. The idea of collecting classics from Mao’s works under the title ‘Sayings of Chairman Mao’ was Lin Biao’s. From 1962 the works were printed in the Liberation Army Newspaper and people competed to recite the newly published ‘Sayings’. Later they were put together in a small red book, of which each person had at least one during the Cultural Revolution. It was the most widely circulated book in the world.
The three figures in the poster come from the ‘Cultural Revolution Theatre’. During the Cultural Revolution, the ‘eight model plays’ were designated by Jiang Qing (Madame Mao) to be representative new artworks for the proletariat. Jiang Qing took part in the creation of these works and was active in popularising them. The revolutionary plays received a great deal of support from Mao Zedong, and they provided a stepping stone in Jiang Qing’s later leap onto the centre stage of Chinese politics.
The person who holds high the signal light is Li Yuhe from Story of the Red Lantern. Li is a worker on the railway who sacrifices his life in order to safeguard the secrecy of the signals used by the underground resistance during the anti-Japanese War. The white haired woman in the middle is Xi’er, the heroine from White Haired Girl who is exploited and abused by her landlord. She flees and hides in the old forest deep in the mountains, which turns her hair white. The soldier wearing a cloak is probably Yang Zirong, the hero of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Yang is the good official who vanquishes the bandits hiding in nearby mountain forests after the PLA’s victory in the war in Northeast China. In 1967, these revolutionary plays had only just begun to become widespread. As a result, the signal and other props, and the colours and style of the character’s clothes are not as ‘standard’ in this painting as in later works of the same subject.

The ‘Saying of Chairman Mao’ in the picture is ‘Literature and art is for the masses, and principally for the ‘workers, farmers and soldiers’ (gong nong bing). They should be created by the workers, farmers and soldiers, and be of benefit to the workers, farmers, and soldiers’. This quote is from a speech by Mao at a conference on art organized by leftist intellectuals and writers in Yenan in 1942 (usually referred to as the Yenan Forum). This speech resolved the question of who art should serve, and formed the guiding philosophy of Chinese revolutionary art and literature. An event to commemorate the speech is held every year to the present day.