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From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: The Echoes of Socialist Realism, Part II

Continued "From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: The Echoes of Socialist Realism, Part I"

In the 1940s, as Socialist Realism took form and began to emerge following the establishment of the Communist Party’s leading position in China, its language drew from the realism that had spread throughout the Chinese mainland in the 1920s and ’30s. After 1949, Mao started to develop a cultural policy and released several statements on the matter; realism gradually transformed into revolutionary realism. Its incorporation into the revolutionary romanticism of the time meant that it ceased to be a realism that was naturalist in tendency. Rather, it gained spiritual connotations, and provided a blueprint for the political vision of socialism.

In this school of realism, artists sought methods of placing compelling, realistic details at the service of great political lies. The resources and dissemination mechanisms of art production were strictly controlled at one single source, rendering the creative motivations, education, and desires of the individual incomparably insignificant. The devastation wrought on intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution was further recorded in “scar art” and “scar literature.” During this period, hundreds of new magazines emerged, as well as thousands of translated texts and periodicals, while some selected foreign films and television programs were screened.

The second emergence of realism in China took place after the Cultural Revolution. This time, realism emerged as a resistant stance—or perhaps it would be more accurately described as emerging in the form of dissatisfaction with the increasingly empty realism that had taken shape since the founding of the nation and the Cultural Revolution. This realism depicted a realer reality, reality as it was witnessed, not the idealized reality portrayed and promised in Communist propaganda discourse, which tended to magnify certain details in the Communist Party’s favor.

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