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Feng Yuan: Good Works for More Progress in Culture and Art in the New Era

Date: 2018-03-15
At a session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC) on 7 March, Mr. Feng Yuan, a CPPCC member, Deputy Chair of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, and Deputy Director of the Central Research Institute of Culture and History, called on the culture and art community to produce good works for the new era. He said the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China charted the course for developing a strong socialist culture with Chinese characteristics in the country. Members of the cultural community have the duty to turn the blueprint into reality.

Feng Yuan explained what needs to be done in four points.

First, cultural confidence and renewal. In today’s China, cultural confidence marks the beginning of a new era. On the basis of cultural self-awareness, it brings a sense of cultural self-esteem and self-improvement. Rejecting the notion of the centrality of western culture and the sense of ethnic and cultural inferiority that appeared after the Opium War, cultural confidence is a recognition of the core values of one’s own culture and an expectation of its excellence. This confidence not only grows from fine cultural heritage created by the Chinese people centuries ago, but also the continued renewal of the Chinese culture over the past 100 years in the course of revolutions and the development of socialism culture. It also originates from the belief that the Chinese culture is capable of creative and innovative development to contribute the Chinese wisdom to the treasure trove of human civilization, renewing the Chinese civilization and the realizing the Chinese dream. This is also what is expected of the Chinese nation as it marches toward greater prosperity and strength.

Cultural confidence is a more fundamental, far-reaching, and enduring source of strength. This confidence is not complacency about its long history or a blind faith that takes cultural progress for granted. It comes from the ability to learn from history and other cultures, embrace new ideas, face up to its own deficiencies, and stay inclusive. More importantly, it comes from the inexhaustible energy for originality to form new thought and concepts, produce new fruits, and reach out to other parts of the world to inspire and enrich human civilization and be accepted, appreciated, and respected in the meantime.

Second, a commitment to nourish the soul of the people. In any given period of history, it is the people, countless individuals who are the subject of cultural creation, who create the culture of a society and are shaped by this culture. Culture is people-centered and serves the people. Artistic creation sees as its ultimate mission to talk to and uplift the soul and encourage the people to discover the meaning and beauty of life and nature. As members of the people, artists themselves need to refresh their own soul and then influence the people with their works. Artists must see themselves as equals of the ordinary people and stay in touch with real life, as this is the natural source of their inspiration. A good artist is someone who can see the extraordinary in the ordinary. A good story is one that represents the feelings and emotions of the man in the street, many of whom work for social progress and national prosperity but are rarely celebrated. The job of an artist is to appreciate the experience of the ordinary people and represent it in a living language and creative forms, including in non-figurative and abstract terms, to produce quality works. This is also the process to build one’s own character and personality.

Third, a pair of good eyes to sift through the mass production of artistic works. The development of culture and art is like a running river. It sweeps away the impurities and only leaves behind those with real value. Its continuous flow breathes life into culture and tradition. For a culture to have historic value, it needs to be relevant to the realities, open to innovation and changes, and inspirational for the future. The best works of cultural and artistic production in peak times marks the height of the national culture at a given time in history.

As Chinese artists look forward to the best time in history, they must also be vigilant against quality erosion that is partly driven by an increasingly powerful market economy. Examples include rebelling against the classic and noble simply for the sake to be unorthodox, disregarding real life and beauty, attacks on the common values of society, pursuing counter-culture and the sensational and pompous, preaching the superiority of western cultures, playing up the dark side of society and humanity, and seeking attention, profit and political gains at the cost of artistic excellence. When any or all of this happens and literary and art criticism is muffled or only aims to steal the spotlight with its sour language, it creates a malicious circle whereby the good and the bad are impossible to distinguish. All of this threatens the ability of artistic works to shape the mind and strengthen the soul. They are the fundamental reason for the production of artistic works to be strong in quantity and weak in quality, reaching a plateau but not a peak.

Ancient Chinese intellectuals believed that writings are for conveying truth. The meaning of truth is an eternal question for artists. For a real artist with a strong cultural self-awareness and confidence and the ambition to stand on one’s own feet culturally, worldly desires and real life misconceptions will not distract him from humanity, erode his commitment to truth, goodness, and beauty, rob away his belief and ideals, or weaken the strength of his character. He will not use diversity as an excuse to save efforts in quality improvement or allow vulgar tastes and capital to dominate artistic production. Only in this way can he break free from the plateau and reach the peak.

Fourth, self-improvement for timeless works. An artist is defined by his works. To produce good works, passion and determination alone are not enough. A profound mind, high artistic attainment, and excellent techniques must be present. Therefore, artists must always be ready to observe and learn. He needs to follow closely the social changes, develop a good knowledge of art theories, and have a good understanding of history, philosophy and other humanities. Artists must have the ability to draw inspirations from the daily life and tell a good story about Chinese philosophy and aesthetics at a micro level. Artists must have a broad vision, a rich imagination, and a high level a craftsmanship. He must always strive for something better and stay away from ostentation. The quality of a piece of work is ultimately determined by the character and artistic attainment of the artist, which benefits from the love for life and others and rich experience in observing the world around us. It also requires the ability to overcome one’s own narrowness, narcissism, cowardice, vanity, and the always present “ignorance”. To produce works that differ from ancient Chinese classics and contemporary western art, speak to the life of real people in our times, and can withstand the test of time, artists themselves must have a deep mind and a loving heart.

Feng also called on the culture authorities to give artists and their works more confidence, appreciation, respect and help. This is important for achieving greater cultural prosperity whereby more timeless works will emerge.