Documentary Film Explores Tension Between Art and Politics in Mao’s China
FROM THE MASSES TO THE MASSES: AN ARTIST IN MAO’S CHINA
PRODUCER: ERIC HYER, BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY
DIRECTOR: DODGE BILLINGSLEY, COMBAT FILMS AND RESEARCH
PRODUCED BY: COMBAT FILMS AND RESEARCH FOR BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY, DAVID M. KENNEDY CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, “BEYOND THE BORDER SERIES”
COLOR, DVD, 56:45 MINUTES, 2005
COMBAT FILMS & RESEARCH
455 EAST 400 SOUTH
SALT LAKE CITY, UT 84111
Political scientist Eric Hyer first captured the dramatic appeal of China’s revolutionary history in his incisive documentary on Helen Foster Snow (2001). With From the Masses to the Masses, he delves substantially deeper into the cultural and political milieu of Mao’s China both before and after 1949. Hyer takes as his subject Jin Zhilin, an artist born in 1928 in Hebei province who began his formal training during the Anti-Japanese war. Jin’s discovery in Yan’an of what was to become his lifelong passion–– local peasant folk art––coincided roughly with Mao Zedong’s oft-quoted Yan’an Talks on Art and Literature. As the filmmakers emphasize, this meant that art existed only to serve the masses, and no art could exist apart from politics. Artists like Jin were thus primarily trained to serve the revolution and the Communist Party by creating didactic, propagandistic art.
Art historian Amy McNair (University of Kansas), elaborating on the relationship between art and politics, downplays the apparent rigidity of Mao’s message. Chinese art, she says, has always been political, and in fact the wonderful, uplifting themes emerging from the Yan’an talks were “so open” they could be reinterpreted differently by succeeding generations.