Art in Turmoil

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 September, 2010, 12:00am

Art in Turmoil
edited by Richard King
Hong Kong University Press HK$195

Even if you have had your fill of books about the Cultural Revolution and even if you don't care for the period's heroic images, buy Art in Turmoil for the insight it gives into the Communist Party's utopian vision of society. Included in this fascinating, well-considered volume are accounts of some of the people who helped mould the art (among them Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, who identified with the heroes in propaganda posters) and explanations of what the images meant to their creators and audiences. The 'Great Helmsman' considered the artworks 'cogs and screws' in the revolutionary machine, Richard King and Jan Walls write in the introduction, as Mao turned to artists to try to restore the authority he lost in the disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign. One of the book's four parts contains the memoirs of artists Shengtian Zheng and Gu Xiong, who was sent to a village to be an 'educated youth'. Life was tough, but in the countryside he was privy to illegal novels, most of them romances. The chapter on Huxian peasant painting is among the book's must-read sections.