China's Cultural RevolutionBook - 2010
China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was launched by the Chinese Communist Party in May 1966 and it ended with the death of Mao in 1976. The ten years of upheaval can now be seen as a great tragedy, which has been acknowledged within China itself as a 'cultural desert' in the nation's intellectual history. The scale of the human cost is unknown. The extent of the physical loss of the national heritage was huge. However, as a mass movement in which an unparalleled visual experience was imposed on and executed by the population of eight hundred million people, there is no historical precedent. The art of the revolution eliminated any distinction between artists and the masses. The method was propagandist. The result was the glorification of the great leader, whose beneficent rays symbolically nourished the nation. The language of the revolution and its art was red.
Jiang Jiehong, who grew up in Shanghai in the shadow of the revolution, has challenged our conventional dismissal of these bleak years, by uncovering extraordinary visual dynamics. He has brought to light incredible photographs of the period together with painting, graphics and even images of dance. Contemporary Chinese art exists as a reaction against the conformity of those years, yet a spirit of rebellion, ironically, lies at the heart of the revolution itself. This is the first study to place the imagery of the period into a context in which the historical desert can be re-appraised as somewhere more fertile. The complexity of contemporary China is impossible to appreciate without an understanding of the radical cultural upheaval of these years. Red has shaped the collective memory.