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Long March

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 9 years, 8 months ago

The Long March and Life in Yanan





This "human map" photo is part of the "Long March Project" an art collective in Beijing. You can read more about the project, which was designed to "relive" the historical Long March at various places along the route using photography. The artist, Qin Ga, tattooed the map on his back and added information about the sites along the route. The image appeared as part of a larger exhibition at the Asia Society two years ago called Art and China's Revolution, an exploration of the interrelationship between culture and politics. I invite you to read more about the Long March Project and explore the entire exhibition.


It was during the "Long March" in 1934-35, a 6,000 mile slog of the 100,000 Communists who remained after being chased by the Guomindang and almost wiped out, (only about 4,000-8,000 made it to Yanan after the journey through mountains and rivers), that Mao emerged as the group's undisputed leader, an "emperor" in waiting if you will. His most loyal comrade was Zhou Enlai, one of China's great prime ministers, the consummate team player, if sycophant, in complete service to Mao (the emperor) and the Party (the imperial bureaucracy).


Mao Zedong (center-left) and Zhou Enlai (far left) in Yanan




 Mao and his wife Jiang Qing in Yanan, 1938



At Yanan, Mao, the supreme leader, and his cohorts or cadres, worked to achieve control over the peasantry and over the intellectuals who had joined the Party. Land reform, consisting of redistributing land on a more equal basis after recruiting villagers to the cause, was a top priority. Mao invited the input of those around him, (a kind of democratic approach), but when he made a decision, all had to conform to the party (or "mass") line. Those, especially those intellectuals, who criticized the "line" in effect had become undisciplined and deserved punishment (thought reform, self-criticism meetings, and ultimately confession and recantation).


The relationship of art and literature to the success of the Communist revolution was revealed in a speech Mao gave in Yanan in 1942 at a special conference and mirrored the socialist realism from the Soviet Union. Artists and writers had as their mission the promulgation of revolutionary (read: Communist Party) ideology. Here are a couple of excerpts from that talk. The passages are taken from Robert F. Dernberger, Rhoads Murphey, et al, eds. The Chinese: Adapting the Past, Building the Future. (University of Michigan, Center for Chinese Studies: 1986), 588-90.


Talks at the Yanan Conference on Literature and Art by Mao Zedong (1942)


 Revolutionary Chinese writers and artists, the kind from whom we expect great things, must go among

 the masses; they must go among the masses of workers, peasants, and soldiers and into the heat of 

 battle for a long time to come, without reservation, devoting body and soul to the task ahead; they must go to the sole, the broadest, and the richest source, to observe, experience, study, and analyze all the different kinds of people, all the classes and all the masses, all the vivid patterns of life and struggle, and all the literature and art in their natural form, before they are ready for the stage of processing or creating, where you integrate raw materials with production, the stage of study with the stage of creation.


In the world today, all culture or literature and art belongs to a definite class and party, and has a definite political line.  Art for art's sake, art that stands above class and party, ... or politically independent art do not exist in reality.  In a society composed of classes and parties, art obeys both class and party and it must naturally obey the political demands of its class and party, and the revolutionary task of a given revolutionary age; ... Proletarian literature and are part of the whole proletarian revolutionary cause; ...   




Mao concludes his talk with a reference to the great Chinese writer Lu Xun who died in 1936. Here he refers to a couplet written by Lu Xun:



 Sternly browed I cooly face the fingers of a thousand men,

Head bowed I'm glad to be an ox for little children.






Mao's interpretation follows:


The "thousand men" are the enemy, we will never submit to any enemy no matter how ferocious. The     "children" are the proletariat and the popular masses. All Communist Party members, all revolutionaries,  and all revolutionary workers in literature and art should follow Lu Xun's example and be an ox for the   proletariat and the popular masses, wearing themselves out in their service with no release until death. The intelligentsia must join in with the masses and serve them; ... . 




Mao kept reiterating these principles as the Communist Revolution unfolded after 1949. Not all writers agreed with such stultifying restrictions. Lu Xun would be rolling over in his grave. The Marxist literary critic, Hu Feng, wrote several letters in the early 1950s criticizing Mao's ideas. In one such letter to a friend in 1949, he wrote,



 The world of literature and art is enshrouded by an atmosphere of great melancholy. Many seem to be

 in shackles ... like the unhappy little daughters-in-law in our old Chinese family system, who are always fearful of beating that may come at any moment but who must go on living. ...  






And in another letter from 1951, he penned,


I wanted to write, and so I took a look at Mao's "Talk a the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art." After

reading it I had no urge to write any more. ... The section that touches on Lu Xun's essays is not correct.

Lu Xun's essays are like sharp implements for unearthing new ideas in real life. 






 Hu Feng was forced to make a self-criticism for his commitment to literary freedom. He was tried as a counterrevolutionary, imprisoned, suffered a nervous breakdown, and finally was "rehabilitated" in 1979.*


*(The passages from Hu Feng's letters are taken from Patricia Ebrey, ed. Chinese Civilizatioin: A Sourcebook. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 422-24.)



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