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Story of Ink and Wash - Remembering Nineteen-sixty


December Issue of Hi Art, 2009

Even the hottest dumpling will cool down with time going by. Time is objective and impartial: as years passed, everything will get clear, obvious and easy to judge. I have mentioned that during the Great Leap Movement in 1957, there was a tendency towards boasting and exaggerating. Then people said that the grain yield had reached 18, 478 kilograms per acre and 3.079 kilograms per square foot. However, the actual yield then was less than 100 kilos per acre and 15 grams per square foot, which was just enough for making a dumpling wrapper. On August 27th, 1958, People’s Daily published an editorial, Grain Yield Just Lies in Our Imagination and Courage, and later on September 30th, New China News Agency announced to the world, “By 1958, China’s total grain output has reached 1.75 trillion kilograms, which is ten times as much as that in 1957. China has become the biggest grain producer in the world.” Then artists and intellectuals created numerous paintings and poems expressing the happiness brought by “good harvest” and the life “abundant in food”.

However, only several months later, China entered “the period of three years of natural disasters” lasting from 1959 to 1961, during which the national economy dropped from the “crazy leap” into the unprecedented depression. Almost half of factories closed, with more than 20 million workers sent home. A critical shortage of grain occurred, and many rural people starved to death. Then tens of millions people died abnormally, and in certain places cannibalism appeared. The three years are called “the most miserable period” in Chinese history. Indeed, the “natural disasters” during that time, was, as Liu Shaoqi said, “disasters caused by people more than natural ones”. According to Floods and Droughts in China, from 1959 to 1961, the average degree of air dryness was rather normal. In 1960 the degree of air dryness exceeded the average level a little and arid areas increased when compared with 1959, but indeed the drought had lessened. The national climate in 1961 was fairly normal. What is more, according to Floods and Drought Levels All over China between 1895 and 1971 compiled by experts, there were no disasters at all during the period. A weather report from Japan also stated that in those years the climate in China was rather normal: the so called “natural disaster” was nothing but a lie made up to conceal the real reasons for food shortage.

During that time, although the grain yield reported to the government was false, the requisition on farmers was real. Then grain requisitioned accounted for 39.6% of the total output, which had reached the limit of farmers. What were requisitioned also included the farmers’ food and seeds reserved for the next year. More exaggerated announcement a place had made, more miserable it would be. For instance, Henan boasted most, and over the three years abnormal deaths had exceeded 2 million, with about 740 thousand animals decimated. A lot of villages as well as 4.4 million acres of fields in that province were deserted; edema broke out and numerous farmers fled or starved to death. Then Xinyang Incident, which had ever rocked the nation, flared up. Wang Renzhong, who was assigned by the central government to investigate Henan, recalled, “In a county of Xinyang, more than 10 thousand people were attacked, resulting in above 7000 people running away and a death toll of more than 300. How cruel it was! ” Later Henan Provincial Party Committee also made a self-criticism, “Xinyang then had become a horrible and dark world.”

On April 8th, 2009, Guangzhou Daily interviewed Yuan Longping, an eminent rice scientist. Then Yuan said, “During the three years of natural disasters, tens of millions of people died for starvation. In the Great Leap Movement trees were cut to temper steel, which had destroyed the ecology. Then a serious drought happened in 1959 when forty or fifty thousand people starved to death. I saw, with my own eyes, 5 bodies of the starved lying by the farmland, under bridges and beside roads. That was really a tragedy.” For another province which was “active” during the movement then, according to Cambridge History of China, “Anhui Province might have suffered the greatest decline in population. The provincial abnormal death rate in 1960 soared by 68% compared with the previous year, which was 3.5 times more than the national average degree.”

Then during the three years, what were artists and intellectuals doing? Unexpectedly, no traces of “natural disasters” can be found in historical documents or major works created in that time. In 1959, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue drew a jumbo traditional Chinese painting, The Land Is So Rich in Beauty, for the Great Hall of the People, and then Mao Zedong inscribed its title on the painting himself. Some theorist wrote, “The significance of The Land is So Rich in Beauty does not lies in its giant size or the unique background of its creation, nor in the creating method that combines typical revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism. Rather, the creation of that painting has helped landscape painters form new creative ideas, allowing them to find a subject matter leading to success in a particular social environment.” There are also other works created under such creative ideas, such as the series of Mountains Are Reddened by Li Keran, and On Chairman Mao’s “Waves Washing the Sand” by Pan Tianshou. As to Li Keran’s Mountains Are Reddened and Woods Are Tinted with Deep Red, some theorist pointed out, “The painting indicates that Li has fully mastered the skill of expressing Mao Zedong’s poems with his own way of drawing, through which the appearance of his landscape paintings has been determined.” Then almost all painters would take Mao Zedong’s poetry as their subject matter, and paintings on Mao’s poems were fairly safe. In 1960, traditional Chinese artists organized a Traditional Chinese Painting Work Team which spent 3 months on visiting Henan, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Hubei and Hunan, with a journey of 23 thousand miles. Artists then proposed that “Painting methods should change with the improvement of our thoughts”. Then they had nearly covered all sacred places of revolution and former residences of Chinese leaders in their works, just omitting the fact of the “natural disasters”. Following are annals of Chinese art circles during “the period of three years of natural disasters”:

On March 24th, 1959, Cai Ruohong, Vice Chairman of National Art Association and Wang Chaowen, the standing director of the association, attended and spoke at “Plastic Art Exhibition of Socialist Countries”, a 3-day forum held in Moscow. On December 23th, 1959, the exhibition “Posters Created over the Last Decade”, which was hosted by National Art Association and People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, opened in Zhongshan Park, Beijing. On January 20th, 1960, “New Year Picture Exhibition” hosted by National Art Association inaugurated in Zhongshan Park, with 179 works being displayed. On March 2nd, 1960, Anhui Branch of Art Association was established; Lai Shaoqi was elected as the chairman, with 28 directors and 5 standing directors. On March 16th, 1960, Jiangsu Chinese Painting Institute was founded, electing Fu Baoshi as the dean and Qian Song? as the sub-dean. On September 30th, 1960, Selected Works of Mao Zedong: Volume IV was published; Qian Ruohong, Liu Kaiqu, Wu Zuoren, Wang Chaowen and Wu Jingting joint the first reading club organized by CFLAC (China Federation of Literary and Art Circles). On December 29th, 1960, the Apprenticing Ceremony of Worker-and-Peasant Institute was held in Shanghai Chinese Painting Institute. On January 18th, 1961, National Art Association held a standing council, defining the major work in the first half of the year as supervising the creation of works offered to CPC 40th Anniversary as presents. On June 2nd, 1961, “Forum on the Creation of Revolutionary-History Paintings” was held in Beijing. On October 25th, 1961, Guo Moruo, in the name of chairman of CFLAC, addressed to Picasso, the French painter, celebrating his 80th birthday.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the edition of 1999, the famine caused by the Great Leap Movement was one of the two greatest famines in the 20th century. On the 50th birthday of the People’s Republic of China, a public-opinion survey was conducted by People’s Daily, New China News Agency, Information Office of the State Council, and Beijing Daily, where people ranked the most important events that occurred since the foundation of new China, with the Cultural Revolution standing first on the list and “three years of natural disasters” coming second.

Zhu Wei

Sunday, November 22th, 2009





水墨的故事 温故一九六O







与大跃进相比,那么这段时间艺术家、文化人又干了些什么呢?寻找这一时期的历史资料、重要作品,丝毫看不出有任何“自然灾害”的影子和信息。一九五九年傅抱石和关山月为人民大会堂创作了巨幅国画《江山如此多娇》,毛泽东亲自为此画题写“江山如此多娇”。理论家这样写道,“《江山如此多娇》的意义并不在于它那巨大的幅面和一般作品所没有的特殊的创作背景,也不在它所表现出的典型的革命现实主义和革命浪漫主义相结合的创作方法,而是通过它启发了后来许多山水画画家的创作思路,找到了一个能够在特定社会环境中获得成功的创作题材。”属于这一创作思路的还有李可染的《万山红遍》系列、潘天寿的《毛主席浪淘沙词意》等等。关于李可染的《万山红遍 层林尽染》,理论家是这样指出的,“《万山红遍 层林尽染》的出现标志了他在运用自己的笔墨语言表现毛泽东诗意方面已经完全成熟,而且也以此确立了自己的山水画面貌”。当时的画家几乎没有不画毛泽东诗意的,毛泽东的诗意画是一条不会出错的途径。一九六O年,江苏国画家还组织了国画工作团,历时三个月,行程两万三千多里,先后到河南、陕西、四川、湖北、湖南、广东等地。艺术家提出,“思想变了,笔墨就不能不变”,艺术家们几乎画遍了所有的革命圣地、领袖故居,就是见不到“自然灾害”的影子。以下是“三年自然灾害”期间中国美术的编年史: