AFTER a Hollywood-style courtroom drama this week, two of the mainland's leading painters are now awaiting the verdict of a libel case that pits party stalwart Li Qi against former political prisoner Professor Zhu Weimin. Art and ideology collided in the case, which started when 70-year-old Li attacked the mainland's younger generation of painters for what he described as ridiculing the Communist Party through pop art paintings which are popular in the West. In an article headlined 'Remove the scales from your eyes' in Artists' Correspondence magazine, Li wrote that such painters were being funded by the CIA to wage a cultural cold war as it did in Eastern Europe. In response, Zhu, director of the Art Research Institute of the People's University, wrote an article in The Way magazine in which he accused Li of writing nonsense in order to mount a Maoist-style purge. In 1958 Zhu was sentenced as a rightist for condemning the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and for defending impressionism. He spent the first half of his 20-year sentence in a labour farm outside Tianjin before escaping to Xinjiang, where he hid among Uygur peasants until the late 1970s. Li focused his criticism on younger painters like Yan Binghui of Tianjin, who in 1995 exhibited such works as Share the Same Dream in the Central Academy of Arts in Beijing. The painting depicts three crowns floating above three chairs. Li has said the painting could be taken as a mockery of Jiang Zemin for being Chairman of the Central Military Commission, party chief and President, which some people claim is too many chairs for one man to occupy. Zhu said that if the painting were an attack on the President, then Li, who had made a career out of painting political leaders, would also be guilty of using his works to send messages, and other crimes. He cited a case in the 1980s in which he claimed Li accepted thousands of dollars in exchange for painting a portrait of former Japanese prime minister Noboru Takeshita, who refused to apologise for Japan's war crimes and who was dismissed from his post over a stocks scandal. Li says the claim is libellous and he denies ever receiving any money for the work. He is demanding an apology from Zhu and four thousand yuan (HK$3,740) in compensation. Li declined to attend the court hearing at Haidian District Court. However, his lawyer said that although his client had joined the Communist Party in 1937 and was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, the case was not about politics or ideology. 'Li does not want the court to take a stance on ideological disputes. He just wants to sue Zhu for slander,' his lawyer said. Before the Cultural Revolution, Li had painted a portrait of former president Liu Shaoqi, the chief target of Mao's purge of the Communist Party. However, in later years he has painted portraits of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and other members of the ruling elite. Zhu's lawyer said: 'My client just cannot help speaking out just as he could not help doing so in the 1950s. We don't want to repeat historical tragedies.' Li's wife told the court that her husband had been so hurt by Zhu's accusations that 'he could neither eat nor sleep'. A lawyer representing The Way magazine, which carried the professor's counter-attack, also spoke out in defence of freedom of expression. 'Only pluralism can guarantee that we live in a time when a hundred flowers can blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend,' the magazine's lawyer argued. 'Do not put political labels on us or practise a literary inquisition.' While he argued that the magazine had never published anything that could be construed as being against the party or Government, the legal case revolves around another issue - whether Zhu was correct in saying that Li personally accepted payment for painting Mr Takeshita. 'It is possible that I will lose the case, that I can't find the evidence, but I don't regret this,' the professor said. Liu Xiaocun, of the Art Research Institute, said: '[The case] is bad for the development of art in China. 'What he is trying to do is to frame up painters on political charges.' Another art critic, Li Xianting, disagreed saying the legal battle was more of a joke, a dispute between members of an older generation. 'It is pretty funny actually. Li still sees things in a cultural revolutionary way and if Zhu had not said anything, no one would have paid attention to him.' 'Young artists don't give a damn. If you call them counter-revolutionaries, they will probably say, 'So what?' '