Chinese Art of the Cultural Revolution By Ma, William H.
The art of the Cultural Revolution in China, created during the ten-year period from 1967 to 1977, includes a large variety of visual materials in different media. Generally characterized by unambiguous and heroic images that appealed to the masses, these artworks became powerful tools of political propaganda. Most scholars attribute the beginning of the Cultural Revolution to the 1965 play Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. Written by Wu Han, a local Communist official, the play was a thinly veiled critique of Mao Zedong. Though semi-retired in the early 1960s, Mao was determined to hold on to power by launching a new revolution to reawaken young Chinese people and root out the counterrevolutionary and anti-proletarian elements in society. Under Mao’s directive, people, places, and things representing the Four Olds (Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas) were targeted and violently attacked by young people wearing red armbands and carrying the Little Red Book, a collection of quotes by Mao. Party officials, teachers, professors, authors, and artists had their homes raided and were publically dragged out by the Red Guards for public humiliation. In addition, historical and cultural sites were desecrated and vandalized. While the real violence only lasted the first few years, it set the tone of militarism and revolutionary fervor for the next decade, which permeated through all the arts.