Discourses on Art and Morality in New China: The Confucian Moderation in Mao and Xi’s Speeches on Artistic Practice

  • MAN, Eva K W (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


In May of 1942, Mao Zedong hosted three meetings of what was later famously called the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art. The published record of these meetings has remained the principal guidelines for artistic practice in the new China ever since. In October 2014, China’s leader Xi Jinping gave the “Speech at the Forum on Literature and Art” in Beijing, which echoed Mao’s agenda delivered at Yenan, but with his own appropriations and idealizations addressed to a stronger China.

This proposed study would review the different emphases delivered by Mao and Xi regarding artistic practice, the strategies and policies developed, and the implications in terms of the relevant political and moral values. The originality of this study is to elucidate the references to traditional Confucian aesthetics in Mao’s view on the role of an artist, in contrast with that in the Soviet-style Marxism–Leninism, together with Xi’s talk of the “truth, goodness and beauty”, which is a different aesthetics appropriation of the Confucian aesthetics. This study is intended to reveal the Confucian thread in the aesthetics claims of Mao and Xi, including artistic practice, the functions of art, and the impacts of art and artists on society. It will also compare and contrast the three modalities, namely, the aesthetics of the Confucian tradition, the pragmatic aesthetics of Mao and Xi in addressing art and morality and the social well-being in China.

This study of the common agenda of art and morality will shed light on the understanding of the social functions and values of art implied in the current authoritarian discourses in China. The linking of the traditional Confucian aesthetics with the foundational modes of thought in the speeches of Mao and Xi reveals the thread of social and aesthetic thoughts embedded in the hierarchical structure of Chinese Confucian society and the position of artists in society. The study will conclude with a review of the impacts of Xi’s policies on and the prospects for artistic practice in the current art spheres in China, with particular attention to the situation of the film industry, which is receiving huge number of audiences or mass. The study wishes to enhance the understanding and the sensitivity of film producers regarding the growing censorship and measures in cinematic creativity.

The research will employ interdisciplinary methodologies including historical review, philosophical analysis, critical studies, China studies and comparative aesthetics, leading to academic presentations and publications.
Effective start/end date1/08/2131/07/23


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