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Books-Liures 361 Mao-Tse-Tung on Literature and Art. 3rd Edition. Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1967. 162pp. Reviewed by :S. Frederick Starr* During the generation before 1789, Lessing, Schiller and other pioneers in the field of aesthetics declared the independence of art from all strictures of theology and limitations of patronage. Scarcely had this declaration been made when the painter Louis David, the architect Jean Jacques Lequeu and the playwright Fabre d’Eglantine willingly placed their skills in the service of political revolution. Subsequent thousands of artists have followed them and most modern revolutionaries have endeavored to claim this vital human enterprise for their cause. Mao-Tse-Tung is no exception. The official editors of this slim volume introduce Mao-Tse-Tung’s thoughts on art and literature as ‘the program for the proletarian cultural revolution and the line for proletarian revolutionary literature and art, a program and line which are most complete, thorough and correct’. This thoroughness does not lie in any persistent preoccupation with aesthetic matters-scarcely half a dozen essays and speeches comprise the corpus of the Chinese leader’spronouncements on the subject. Nor does the completeness extend to every medium. The visual arts in general are considered in only a fewpagesand no mention at all is made of sculpture, and that most public of arts, architecture. Yet, for all their brevity and generality, these selections provide a revealing perspective on the attitudes governing artisticexpression in the largest nation on earth. Those approaching Mao’s writing from any non-Chinese frame of reference have generally sought parallels in the Russian experience. The decades before 1917 in Russia were marked by the most intense artistic innovation that country had ever experienced. Refined and cosmopolitan, even in their exploitation of national themes, the diverse artists of Russia’s ‘Silver Age’ created a rich and highly personal world that lured more than a few intellectuals from the revolutionary struggle. Lenin had to counter these developments, which he did by denouncing effete subjectivismand ‘formalism’and by invoking his own revolutionary internationalism. To the extent that he and his successors reinforced their arguments with purely Russian references at all, it was with the works of nineteenth-century radical novelists and critics. In China, the problems were different and so were Mao’s responses. Faced with a gruelling civilwar and invasion from Japan, the Communists’ first need in art, as in everything else, was to lay claimto the national heritage and at the sametime to avoid being corrupted by it. From his 1942talk at the Yenan Forum and before, Mao pursues this objective with energy and imagination. Most of the essays and speeches gathered in this volume deal with this issue. In them, Mao frequently refers to Marxism-Leninism but actually cites these writers’ works only rarely, especially as compared with the numerous allusions to the Chinese classics and earlier Chinese Marxists. Only one non-Chinese work of art or literature is mentioned: Fadeyev’s mediocre novel, The Debacle. Mao himself explains why this should be so: the prime obstruction to his efforts to Sinicize the revolution was posed not by anti-Communist artists but by Communist writers who, through European education and travel, had lost touch with the language -verbal and visual-of the Chinese people. He addresses himself to this group often, calling upon his errant Chinese followers to redeem themselves through a markedly Confucian process of self-examination and self-cultivation. His goal seems to be less the creation of a new art than the formation of an intelligentsia which would be engage‘and Chinese. In this context, it is not surprising that MaoTse -Tung’s conception of art should be explicitly utilitarian. What is striking is his apparent belief that utilitarian art can be created solely with materials already at hand. This in turn is founded on his quite un-Marxian conviction that form and content in art can be neatly divorced from one another, that the content of China’s cultural heritage can be transformed, while leaving its formal skeleton intact. This view, so much at odds with the revolutionary proclamations of Lunacharsky , Maiakovsky, Lissitsky and Meierhold in Russia, emerges repeatedly as Mao exhorts his writers and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 361-362
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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