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For Your Reference

About ”Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art”

[This unsigned article is reprinted from Peking Review, #20, May 19, 1972, pp. 10-12.]

Chairman Mao’s great work Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art was published in May 1942. This was a time when the world’s anti-fascist war was in its most difficult phase. In China, the people’s War of Resistance Against Japan was in its fifth year. Japanese imperialism had speeded up large-scale ”mopping-up” campaigns against the Liberated Areas. The Kuomintang reactionaries pushed their policy of passivity in the war of resistance but active opposition against the Chinese Communist Party. On the one hand, they sent several hundred thousand troops to encircle and blockade the Liberated Areas, in a vain attempt to annihilate the army and people there, and on the other hand secretly had large numbers of troops surrended to the Japanese invaders who then directed these troops to attack revolutionary bases behind the enemy lines. In the Party and the revolutionary camp, the ”Left” opportunist line and the Right capitulationist line of the early period of the war of resistance, both represented by Wang Ming, seriously endangered and influenced the Party and the Chinese revolution.

The struggle between the two lines had always existed on the literary and art front. In the early 1930s the Left-wing literary and art movement in the Kuomintang-controlled areas was under the influence of Wang Ming’s ”Left” opportunist line, with the result that it fell into closed-doorism and sectarianism organizationally, and was bourgeois democratic rather than proletarian in literary and art thought. Under the influence of Wang Ming’s Right capitulationist line in the late 1930s, Chou Yang and other henchmen of Wang Ming opposed Lu Hsun’s slogan for a ”mass literature of national revolutionary war” which embodied the leadership of proletarian cultural thought in the cultural united front. They advocated the capitulationist slogan for a ”national defence literature,” which gave up the Party’s leadership.

Later Chou Yang and his gang went to Yenan under false colours and continued to propagate their reactionary bourgeois and revisionist thoughts on literature and art, and, in collusion with Trotskyites and reactionary literati, wrote counter-revolutionary articles under a revolutionary banner. Using the pretext of opposing ”utilitarianism,” they opposed the Party’s leadership and literature and art serving politics. They said that ”the task of literature and art has always been to expose” and called for a ”literature of exposure,” inciting writers and artists to write about ”dark spots on the sun” and ”expose” the shortcomings of the people. They spread the bourgeois ”theory of human nature” and upheld ”love of humanity” so as to obscure people’s class viewpoint, and break down their revolutionary militancy. They co-ordinated all this with the attack and encirclement of the Liberated Areas by the Japanese invaders and Kuomintang reactionaries.

For several years before the publication of the Talks, large numbers of progressive writers and artists had gone to Yenan and the various anti-Japanese bases behind the enemy lines. The crux of the controversy among them at the time was the problems of working for the masses and how to work for the masses. Since the May 4th Movement in 1919, the militant Left-wing literary and art movement headed by Lu Hsun had made important contributions to the Chinese revolution. But, taking the movement as a whole, the above-mentioned basic questions had not yet found a correct solution. This was because objective conditions were such that the rule of white terror of the Kuomintang reactionaries in areas under Chiang Kai-shek’s control hindered writers from going among the masses of the workers and peasants to learn about them and know them well, and thence to reflect their life and struggle. It was also because, in the matter of leadership, the ”Left” and Right opportunist lines represented by Wang Ming as mentioned above seriously hampered literature and art from serving the workers, peasants and soldiers, and writers and artists from integrating with the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers. Looking at the question from the aspect of the subjective world of the writers and artists, although they wanted revolution, they were bourgeois or petty-bourgeois in their family origin, educational background and literary and art thought. While they might have cried out for ”a mass style,” they actually had tended ”to some extent … to look down upon the workers, peasants and soldiers and divorce themselves from the masses,” and still needed to remould their world outlook. Therefore the works they created were also divorced from the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers, and it might be said of the images of workers, peasants and soldiers they projected that ”the clothes are the clothes of working people but the faces are those of petty-bourgeois intellectuals.”

The Party Central Committee called a forum on literature and art in Yenan where Chairman Mao gave the Talks to systematically sum up the experiences and lessons gained in the revolutionary literary and art movement since the May 4th Movement, eliminate the influence on literary and art thought exerted by Wang Ming’s ”Left” and Right opportunist lines in the 1930s, criticize bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideological trends in the revolutionary literary and art ranks and solve such basic problems in proletarian revolutionary literature and art as that literature and art must serve the workers, peasants and soldiers, and that writers and artists must integrate with the workers, peasants and soldiers. Taking the Talks as their weapon, writers and artists in the Liberated Areas carried out a large-scale rectification campaign.

The Talks is in two parts, the ”Introduction” and the ”Conclusion.”

The ”Introduction” first of all points out that the struggle on the cultural front is an indispensable component part of the entire revolutionary struggle. To ensure that literature and art become a powerful weapon for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and destroying the enemy and serve the revolutionary struggle well, writers and artists must solve the following questions:

The problem of class stand. Our stand is that of the proletariat and of the masses. For members of the Communist Party, this means keeping to the stand of the Party, keeping to Party spirit and Party policy.

The problem of attitude. With regard to the enemy, we should expose their duplicity and cruelty and point out the inevitability of their defeat. With regard to allies, our attitude should be one of both alliance and criticism. As for the masses of the people and their vanguards, we should praise them. The people, too, have their shortcomings. We should be patient and help them overcome their own shortcomings, and not take a hostile attitude and ridicule them.

The problem of audience. In the Liberated Areas, the audience for literature and art works consists of workers, peasants and soldiers and revolutionary cadres. Writers and artists should work for them.

The problem of work. The primary task of our writers and artists is to understand and know well the workers, peasants and soldiers and their cadres. This means that they must go into their midst, become one with them, and remould their thinking and their feelings through sharing their life for a long period.

The problem of study. Writers and artists must study Marxism-Leninism and the conditions of the various classes in society. Only in this way can our literature and art be rich in content and correct in orientation.

In the ”Conclusion,” the two central problems treated are: literature and art serving the masses, and how to serve. These problems are cogently expounded in five sections.

1. The article points out that the orientation of literature and art must be to serve the workers, peasants and soldiers. Our literature and art are under the leadership of the proletariat and serve the masses of the people. All our literature and art are for the masses of the people, and in the first place for the workers, peasants and soldiers; they are created for the workers, peasants and soldiers and are for their use.

The Talks stresses that the question of ”for whom?” is fundamental. Unless this is solved, many other problems will not be easy to solve.

2. On how to serve the workers, peasants and soldiers, the article first of all sets forth the problem of popularization and raising standards. This problem must be considered with the prerequisite of serving the workers, peasants and soldiers. Popularization means to popularize among the workers, peasants and soldiers, and raising standards means raising standards on the basis of the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers, raising the level of literature and art in the direction in which the proletariat is advancing, in the direction in which the workers, peasants and soldiers are themselves advancing. The relationship between popularization and raising standards should be: The raising of standards is based on popularization, while popularization is guided by the raising of standards.

It also points out that the life of the people provides all literature and art with an inexhaustible source, their only source. Literary and art works of the past are not a source, but a stream; they were created by our predecessors and foreigners out of the literary and artistic raw material they found in the life of the people of their time and place. We must take over all the fine things in our literary and artistic heritage, critically assimilate whatever is beneficial, and use them as examples when we create works out of the literary and artistic raw material in the life of the people of our own time and place. But taking over legacies and using them as examples must never replace our own creative work. Revolutionary writers and artists must go among the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers, to observe, experience, study and analyse all the different kinds of people, all the classes, all the masses, all the vivid patterns of life and struggle, all the raw material in literature and art. Only then can they proceed to creative work.

The Talks further points out clearly that our literary and art specialists work not only for the cadres, but also, and indeed chiefly, for the masses. They should pay attention to the masses’ wall newspapers, reportage, small troupes, songs and fine arts. No revolutionary writer or artist can do any meaningful work unless he is closely linked with the masses, gives expression to their thoughts and feelings and serves them as a loyal spokesman.

3. The relationship between literature and art and politics, and between literature and art and the entire revolutionary cause, and the problem of the united front in literary and art circles are explained in the article. It points out that in class society, all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. Literature and art detached from politics and standing above classes do not exist. Proletarian literature and art are an indispensable part of the whole revolutionary cause of the proletariat. Literature and art are subordinate to politics, but in turn exert a great influence on politics. All Party literary and art work must be subordinated to the revolutionary tasks set by the Party at a given period.

On the problem of the united front in literary and art circles, it is pointed out that the policy of both struggle and unity must be carried out. All unity and no struggle or all struggle and no unity are both wrong.

4. On the question of literary and art criticism, the Talks points out that this is one of the principal methods of struggle in the world of literature and art. In literary and art criticism, there are two criteria, namely the political and the artistic. All classes in all class societies invariably put the political criterion first and the artistic criterion second. The proletariat must also first of all distinguish a work as good or bad according to its own political criterion. What we demand is the unity of politics and art, the unity of revolutionary political content and the highest possible perfection of artistic form.

Profound criticism is levelled at such erroneous views as ”the theory of human nature,” ”the fundamental point of departure for literature and art is love, love of humanity,” ”the task of literature and art is always been to expose,” and so on.

5. A serious campaign of rectification must be unfolded in literary and art circles. The main problem existing in these circles, the Talks points out, is that the world outlook of many writers and artists has not been remoulded, and they still carry a great deal of the muck of the exploiting classes in their heads. They will always stubbornly try to project themselves through literary and artistic ways, spread their views, and want the Party and the world to be remoulded in their own image. To yield to them would actually be to yield to the big landlord class and the big bourgeoisie, and run the risk of undermining our Party and our country. In order to put things in order ideologically in our Party and in our ranks so as to lead the revolutionary movement to develop more effectively, it is necessary to launch a struggle of proletarian ideology against non-proletarian ideology. Only in this way can our ranks become truly united ideologically and organizationally.

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