Jiang Qing


Reforming the Fine Arts



Written/Delivered: 19 May 1968.
English translation: This is an abridged translation of the transcript of a tape-recorded meeting of Jiang Qing, Yao Wenyuan, and Chen Boda with members of the Zhejiang Provincial Revolutionary Committee on 19 May 1968. The transcript was included in Jiang Qing tongzhi lun wenhua yishu (Comrade Jiang Qing on Culture and the Fine Arts), published by students in the Chinese Language Department of Hangzhou University in July 1968, pages 69-73.  The translation appeared in China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party, by Michael Schoenhals ED., M.E. Sharpe, 1996, pages 197-201.
Transcription: www.wengewang.org.
HTML/Markup for marxists.org: Jian Qing Internet Archive, 2014.




I don't like Pan Tianshou's paintings. They are so gloomy. Those bald eagles he paints are really ugly. Gloomy and hideous. (Wenyuan: The fact that they are so gloomy has to do with him being a special agent. Those bald eagles Pan Tianshou likes to paint are embodiments of special agents.)

A few years ago, how come there were so many paintings by Pan Tianshou around? Why did you here in Hangzhou praise him so much? I remember there was even an exhibit of his in Beijing, and the prices were really high. There was Fu Baoshi as well. Xu Beihong should be affirmed, artistically he should be affirmed. He made foreign things serve China and the old serve the new, and he was quite sophisticated. Xu Beihong's gallery should not be closed down. Qi Baishi is an old miser, a real scoundrel! Tan Zhenlin's wife is also an old miser. (Wenyuan: Huang Zhou is a very nasty person.)...

Now as for paintings, they must serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers. The workers, peasants, and soldiers should occupy that battle front. The central ideological theme of what is painted must be quite clear, the composition must be quite simple, and the central theme must be pronounced. At present, the general appearance of your paintings is far too scattered, too messy. (Refers to the paintings shown on this occasion.)

We must popularize; popularization is our basis. But we must also, on the basis of popularization, raise our level. We must have works of art on a higher level. The fine arts must produce a few model works. If there are no works on a higher level, people will curse us and say what we do is all as plain as boiled water, in which case we shall not be able to stand our ground. We will be chased off the stage....

Just painting portraits is not enough. There must be greater variety. But in the past, all those bright and colorful paintings just did not take as their subject the workers, peasants, and soldiers, nor did they serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers. You must train talented artists from among the workers, peasants, and soldiers, as well as serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers. The Academy of Fine Arts need not necessarily produce specialists. It is very good of you to organize amateur training classes for talented workers, peasants, and soldiers. There are many talented workers, peasants, and soldiers. Initially, we had planned to experiment in the same way in all of the arts schools, not just in fine arts, but in music, opera, and ballet as well, but it just did not work. Right now we still don't have the capacity. Right now we're concentrating our energies on grasping politics, and there is no time for us to carry out experiments in the arts schools. At lower levels, they cannot figure things out. The forces in your schools seem to be quite concentrated, so you could be quite bold! Merge some departments, and send them down to the countryside and down to the factories. Turn them into comprehensive arts schools, or at least conduct some trials! Move out into the world of practice! We have not set any restrictions. You can report your achievements to us. We'll allow you to keep a few extra backbone elements and a few extra graduates for the sake of educational reform.

(While being briefed about the deep roots that Zhou Yang, Cai Ruohong, Hua Junwu, Jiang Feng, Mo Pu, and other black-line representatives of the 1930s bourgeoisie had in the Academy of Fine Arts:) And there's the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1950s, all the way up to the 1960s as well. Centuries of the bourgeoisie, and millennia of feudalism, have made an impact. But it's nothing to be afraid of. Take opera reform: Didn't the eight model operas, as soon as they were out, just overwhelm and devastate them?

(While being briefed about the fact that large numbers of provinces and municipalities all have their own fine arts institutes, arts and crafts schools, opera and music academies:) What's the point of having that many in every province? It's a big mess and they're just turning out little "lords." There is a teacher in the Central Academy of Fine Arts who uses oil to paint traditional New Year's paintings in the Dunhuang style. Totally divorced from reality! New Year's paintings, picture-story books, and wood-block prints all have a future, and their role might even be bigger. Painting for the stage is very important. Now they move huge trees onto the stage in some places! They're not utilizing stage lighting properly. Oil paintings, as an art form, need to be reformed. Models still need to be painted. But to rely solely on models won't do. You also have to learn how to draw from memory. Some people don't know how to paint without a model. 

(While speaking of arts and crafts:) The students in the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts are complaining and want to go down to the countryside. Why not select a few factories and mines for them to go to? I once talked with Comrade Ke Qingshi about how to arrange for arts and crafts to enter the factories. We have a fine tradition of artistic design in our country, a national tradition of printing on cotton and satin and silk. As long as you don't draw dragons and phoenixes and that kind of stuff, all you have to do is adjust the design a little and you shall have something very pretty, very elegant, and tasteful. Nowadays the designers keep printing puppies and kittens on our cotton in imitation of Western designs; as a result, nobody likes to wear it, and it cannot compete on the international market either. We even lose money on some of the pottery made for export at Jingdezhen.

You have to be particularly cautious when painting the leadership, or you shall suffer defeat. Paintings of the Chairman must not be produced in a rough and slipshod way. (Criticism voiced by Comrade Jiang Qing while looking at, and basically approving of, the painting Our Seas Turn Into Mulberry Fields produced at the Central Academy of Fine Arts:) Still, too much detail creates problems too. The background is too complex. [In this painting] the Chairman's lower cheek-' bones look uncomfortable, and his right hand is not very well painted either. The person should stand out, and the background must not be too complex. (Comrade Jiang Qing went on to look at an oil painting of Chairman Mao shaking hands with Comrade Hoxha.) There is an unfortunate trend in what you do, which is not to give prominence to the person and to clutter up the background. You don't appear serious. There are problems with everything from the ideological theme to the actual composition. Recently, I saw an excellent oil painting of Chairman Mao going to Anyuan that really succeeded in depicting the Chairman's air.

Once the issue of the political stand has been resolved, you still have to resolve the issue of craftsmanship. Essential techniques still have to be taught.

What about the future of sculpture? The Center has issued repeated; injunctions against the production of giant sculptures of the Chairman, because when they're that big, it is difficult to achieve a good semblance. Just to make a mess of it won't do. If things go wrong, there may even be international repercussions.

The Zhejiang Bureau of Culture has been spreading an awful lot of rumors about me, claiming it was I who asked for Fourth Son Calls on-His Mother to be performed. The old Central Propaganda Department and the old Ministry of Culture, as well as the old East-China Bureau, Peng Zhen, and Wang Fang, all spread rumors about me. Fourth Son Calls on His Mother was already being performed prior to my arrival. When I criticized it, they stopped, but once I had left, they began performing it again. I read reports in the paper, and in fact in 19611 did not even visit Hangzhou. It's all calumny and slander. Women impersonating men is a strange sixties phenomenon. I'm thoroughly disgusted with it! The Yue Opera Militant Youth is one big poisonous weed. The novel itself is already bad. Once the Youth & Vigor Yue Opera Troupe came to Huairentang to perform, and I thought this time for sure the performers would be men! But no, it was once more women impersonating men, and they were really ugly! The more I saw, the angrier I got, and I considered walking out. There was another play too that really upset me when I saw it, about a drunkard and a madwoman, implying that our new society is one of drunkards and madwomen. The story was set in Zhejiang, and therefore Zhejiang had produced this new historical play. Its name was Drunken Verdict. It is truly extraordinary that you here in Zhejiang should be performing old plays and ghost plays to such an extent. You even have ossified corpses turning into ghosts and emerging from coffins. I certainly do not watch performances like that. I read about them in the paper. And then there is The Mother in the Nunnery, which was performed everywhere in different opera forms. (Wenyuan: At the time it was euphemistically renamed Lineage Property Salvaged.)

(While being briefed on Hu Qiaomu's activities in Hangzhou:) Hu Qiaomu together with Chen Bing had them perform Xin Wenbing. (Wenyuan: Hu Qiaomu has visited Hangzhou a number of times.) Every time I criticized him, he just would not listen. ... All of that was done by Zhou Yang and those people in order to prepare public opinion for a restoration of capitalism. (Chen Boda: Right! Right! It's all in reparation for a restoration.) (While speaking of reforming opera forms:) There is a problem with Zhejiang in that all of its old opera forms are problematic. The Shao-ing full ensemble has a solid martial arts foundation. Can the model operas be transplanted? Are there any old opera forms that can be utilized? First, one must determine what's right and what's wrong, and then act differently depending on the circumstances. (Wenyuan: A little while ago Comrade Jiang Qing said that the eight model operas an be transplanted, [but] that transplanting is a very arduous task involving many changes.)

The Yue Opera has to be reformed. The Yue Opera is bourgeois. In the past, people with money in Shanghai would have girls come to perform a selection of favorites for money. The music of the Yue opera is very low spirited. The opera form has to be reformed, and the plays have to be written. There should be men and women performing together, and the music has to be reformed. Right now, the octave range of the performers is too narrow.

Zhejiang is where Chiang Kai-shek used to have his old lair. (When briefed about the crimes of the number one capitalist roader in Zhejiang, Jiang Hua, and how he had said, "I prefer capitalism that lets me eat my fill over socialism that leaves me starving," Jiang Qing marked angrily: )Before Liberation, did your families have enough to eat? There is no such thing as socialism that lets you starve; only capitalism lets you starve!

One is allowed to make mistakes when making revolution. You must not be afraid of making mistakes and should engage in reform while engaged in practical work. (Wenyuan: The Revolutionary Committee should talk about drawing up a concrete plan.) There will be a disaster unless the schools are reformed. This applies to universities, middle schools, elementary schools, and arts schools, as well as all artistic and cultural institutions.