The ever-shifting interaction of the government, the market, and the people makes it impossible to predict what form it might adopt in the future.
- Li Mingjie, professor
Since the reform in 1978, with the rapiddevelopment of economy and society, Chinese economy has transferred into marketeconomy from command economy. The average 10% growth of GDP has lifted morethan 500 million people out of poverty. The Millennium Goal of the U.N. hasbeen fully or partially achieved throughout China. At present, the 12thFive-year Plan in China emphasizes the development of service industry and thesolution of imbalance of environment and society. The government has set goalsto reduce pollution, enhance energy efficiency, improve educationalopportunities and medical insurance and expand social security. The 7% growthannual goal demonstrates that the government is concentrating on the quality oflife rather than the speed of growth。
If you live in China, you’ll almost certainly have seen so-called peasant paintings, even if you aren’t familiar with the concept. Be they on city streets, walls around construction sites, pages of newspapers, or screens of TVs, computers, and smartphones, these colorful folklore paintings can be found just about everywhere.
Many of the images in them have been combined with slogans. Since 1988, when China’s Ministry of Culture granted the title of “Chinese Modern Folk Painting Village” to 35 villages, many provinces, cities, and counties have recognized their peasant paintings as an intangible cultural heritage, granting them a level of state-sanctioned protection.
Since the reform in 1978, with the rapid development of economy and society, Chinese economy has transferred into market economy from command economy. The average 10% growth of GDP has lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty. The Millennium Goal of the U.N. has been fully or partially achieved throughout China. At present, the 12th Five-year Plan in China emphasizes the development of service industry and the solution of imbalance of environment and society. The government has set goals to reduce pollution, enhance energy efficiency, improve educational opportunities and medical insurance and expand social security. The 7% growth annual goal demonstrates that the government is concentrating on the quality of life rather than the speed of growth. (新东方在线、北京新东方 卢根)
In recent years, the government hasincreasedfinancial support for projects involving intangible cultural heritage, with peasant painting being one such beneficiary. Jinshan District in southwestern Shanghai is home to a peasant painting village exhibiting works from all over China. Cao Xiuwen, an artist who in 2009 was recognized as an “inheritor of Shanghai’s intangible heritage” for her unique, locally refined peasant painting, saw her work “Spring Awakening”displayedin the theme pavilion at the 2010 world expo in Shanghai.
For some time now, my research institute has been paying close attention to the peasant painting of Shanghai’s western suburbs. In the space of 20 years, this area has gone from being a network of rural villages to a highly urbanized environment. Hu Peiqun, the official laureate of the local style, currently teaches painting as part of a government-sponsored training course. In May, her work “Upward Force” was entered into the nationwide peasant painting exhibition “Chinese Spirit, Chinese Dream,” said to be the biggest exhibition hosted by the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association since 1949. A total of 1,450 works from more than 20 provinces and cities applied to take part, of which 200 were selected for display.
中国将努力确保到2015年就业者接受过平均13.3年的教育。如果这一目标得以实现，今后大部分进入劳动力市场的人都需获得大学文凭。 在未来几年，中国将着力增加职业学院的招生人数：除了关注高等教育外，还将寻找新的突破以确保教育制度更加公平。中国正在努力最佳地利用教育资源，这样农村和欠发达地区将获得更多的支持。 教育部还决定改善欠发达地区学生的营养，并为外来务工人员的子女提供在城市接受教育的同等机会。
China will endeavor to ensure everyemployee to have average 13.3 years of education. If the goal is achieved, amajority of people entering the labor market will be having Bachelor’s degree。
In the next few years, China willincrease the number of people in vocational college. Except focusing on thehigher education, the government will find a breakthrough point to ensure thejustice of education. China is trying to optimize education resources and,accordingly, the countryside as well as the less developed areas will receivemore support。
Left: ‘Upward Force’ by Hu Peiqun (2017), an example of Shanghai’s western suburb-style peasant painting. Courtesy of Hu Peiqun; right: ‘The Mother Returns to her Parents’ Home’ by Cao Xiuwen (2016), an example of Shanghai’s Jinshan-style peasant painting. Courtesy of the Folklore Institute at East China Normal University
China will endeavor to ensure every employee to have average 13.3 years of education. If the goal is achieved, a majority of people entering the labor market will be having Bachelor’s degree. In the next few years, China will increase the number of people in vocational college. Except focusing on the higher education, the government will find a breakthrough point to ensure the justice of education. China is trying to optimize education resources and, accordingly, the countryside as well as the less developed areas will receive more support. In addition, the education ministry decides to improve the nutrition of students in less developed areas and provides equal opportunities for the children of workers from out of town to receive education in the city。(新东方在线、北京新东方 卢根)
In addition, the education ministrydecides to improve the nutrition of students in less developed areas andprovides equal opportunities for the children of workers from out of town toreceive education in the city。
Similar examples of peasant painting are hard to come by in other parts of the world. Peasant painting represents a unique art style that developed after China was united under Communist Party rule in 1949. Sponsored by government cultural departments, the first peasant painting, “Complaint From the Old Bull,” appeared in 1955, ushering in the first of the genre’s three stages of evolution, each named after the rural area considered representative of the style.
The first stage — which takes its name from Shulu and Pi counties — was closely tied to two major political campaigns at the time: During the collectivization of agriculture, cartoon-like images were used to promote policy. During the Great Leap Forward, meanwhile, all art was meant to serve politics. One such representative is corn cobs painted bigger than airplanes.
The ideal rural lifestyle reflected inthe art and literature is a great characteristic in Chinese civilization. It islargely attributed to the Taoism affection to nature。
During peasant painting’s Hu County stage of the 1960s and ’70s, the government deepened collaboration between professionals and amateurs. As a result, lay artists were exposed to the latest sketching and coloring techniques, allowing the country’s artistic output to flourish. This is perhaps best summed up in a 1974 Hu County-style peasant painting called “The Old Party Secretary,” commissioned by China’s national post office.
There are two most preferred topics intraditional Chinese paintings. One kind depicts various happy scenes of familylife in which the elderly play chess and drink tea, young men farm and harvestin the field, women weave or sew clothes and kids play in the outside. Theother depicts the recreations of rural life. In these paintings, fishermen fishon the lake, famers hew or collect herbs on the hills and scholars composepoems or paintings under pine trees. These two themes respectively representthe ideal life of Confucianism and Taoism。
The final stage — named after the Shanghai suburb of Jinshan — grew out of the nascent reform period of the ’80s. Politics, which during the Cultural Revolution had come to dominate people’s lives, now somewhat receded from view, and peasant painting reverted back to traditional depictions of everyday rural life.
The ideal rural lifestyle reflected in the art and literature is a great characteristic in Chinese civilization. It is largely attributed to the Taoism affection to nature. There are two most preferred topics in traditional Chinese paintings. One kind depicts various happy scenes of family life in which the elderly play chess and drink tea, young men farm and harvest in the field, women weave or sew clothes and kids play in the outside. The other depicts the recreations of rural life. In these paintings, fishermen fish on the lake, famers hew or collect herbs on the hills and scholars compose poems or paintings under pine trees. These two themes respectively represent the ideal life of Confucianism and Taoism。(新东方在线、北京新东方 宋健伟)
Today’s peasant paintings are heavily influenced by local folk traditions and scenery. For example, Cao’s Jinshan-style peasant painting “The Mother Returns to her Parents’ Home” is markedly different from work by Liu Dan of Dongfeng County, in northeastern China’s Jilin province, on the same topic. Jinshan-style peasant painting has its origins in the embroidery andstove paintingsof southern China. The small bridge, flock of ducks, and blue and white hues create a gentle, depoliticized pastoral scene.
In comparison, because the Dongfeng style originated in northeastern Chinesepaper-cutting, it tends to feature warm, festive symbols including donkeys, other beasts of burden, and magpies, thought to bring good fortune. For this reason, peasant paintings — a decoration rich in folk imagery — satisfy the imaginations of city-dwellers and foreigners who fetishize the exotic pastoral scenes as a true home for the soul. It is unsurprising that peasant paintings once served as popular government gifts and tourist merchandise.
However, peasant painting’s heavy reliance on government and the consumer market is constricting its development. The amateur status of the artists and the high replicability of the works make peasant paintings less competitive in the nearly saturated market of mass artworks and tourism products.
In addition, the inspiration for works like “Spring Awakening” and “Upward Force” comes entirely from a government that hopes to use the visual arts to illustrate its key theories and policies. As the self-ordained patron of peasant painting, the state commissions art for its own exhibitions and competitions, while replicas color the streets and serve as a vehicle for ideological education and propaganda. The ubiquitous posters for China’s so-called socialist core values are good examples of this.
Peasant paintings already struggle to attract buyers among the general public, and collector enthusiasm is slowing. If the government were to pull its support, therefore, the existence of peasant paintings would likely come under threat.
The crisis is rooted in the fact that peasant painting fails to uphold an essential component of folk art: reflecting the spiritual needs of the people. Nearly all folk art pieces closely connect to ancient beliefs or annual festivals, and they find a rich breeding ground in people’s everyday lives. Prayers for good fortune and fertility are both central components of folk art as well as the secret to its longevity, but peasant paintings lack such a base, as their origins lie in government propaganda and the development of local economies.Globalization complicates the picture even further, as artists must cater to more diverse aesthetic tastes and compete within a larger market. As peasant paintings cleave ever closer to this market, they — in turn — lose much of their original artistic value. The marketization of culture becomes a powerful force that redefines the value of each artwork solely based on how much money can be made from it.
Under the multitude of external forces, peasant painting somewhat resembles the chimera of Greek mythology — a monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake. The ever-shifting interaction of the government, the market, and the people makes it impossible to predict what form it might adopt in the future. Whatever the outcome, the simple, subtle style of peasant painting serves as an excellent reminder of how much China has changed economically, politically, and culturally since 1949.