Cultural work gets policy push
Guideline promotes development of traditional arts
On Aug 15, the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, China”s Cabinet, released a national guideline centered on cultural development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period, with the aim of promoting socialist culture and turning China into a country with a strong foundation in culture and art.
“China’s culture and art sectors should make people their focus and uphold high standards,” the guideline said.
On Aug 17, the CPC Central Committee’s working group for reform and development of the cultural system released a statement elaborating on the guideline and its significance.
“The 15-chapter, three-section document focuses on a wide range of issues, including a more civilized and more healthy cyberspace environment, the creation of literary and artworks, and in-depth studies and protection of cultural heritage,” the statement said , adding that culture is the soul of a country and is key to national governance strategy.
“The development will eventually satisfy people’s increasing need for culture in their lives,” it said. “Their strength will thus be enhanced.”
The significance of such efforts had been realized even before the guideline. Over the past few years, artworks centering on traditional Chinese culture, especially theatrical productions, have been emphasized at several key central conferences.
The document also highlighted the importance of strengthening the influence of traditional culture and enhancing identity and national pride.
On Sept 15, the 13th China Art Festival closed with a ceremony held in the Xiong’an New Area in Hebei province.
Fifteen theatrical productions put on by performing art troupes across the country stood out among hundreds of candidates to win the Wenhua Award, the top national award for performing arts. The productions reflected the importance of traditional culture and were well-received by audiences.
One of the winners was Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting, which was inspired by a well-known Song Dynasty (960-1279) painting by Wang Ximeng called A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains.
Choreographed by Zhou Liya and Han Zhen, the dance drama, produced by the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, has been performed more than 150 times in 28 cities since its premiere in Beijing last year, making it a national phenomenon.
“We have received lots of messages from audiences saying that they were deeply touched by the performance, not only because of the beautiful dance moves, costumes and stage sets, but also because they have a love for traditional culture,” said Jing Xiaoyong, head of the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, which was founded in the 1950s. “The success of the dance drama has proved that Chinese audiences are proud of traditional culture, and for artists, it’s a great mission to create more stage productions featuring stories of traditional culture.”
The play Teacher Guimei, created by the Yunnan Drama Theater, also received the Wenhua Award. Directed by playwrights Wang Baoshe and Chang Hao, the show premiered in Kunming, Yunnan province, in June last year, with award-winning actress Li Hongmei in the leading role.
It is based on the life of Zhang Guimei, who was born in 1957 in Heilongjiang province.
After graduating from Lijiang Normal School, Zhang moved with her husband to Dali in Yunnan, where both of them worked as teachers. After her husband died in 1996, Zhang moved to Huaping county in Lijiang, where she taught at the Huaping Girls’ High School and ran a children’s home.
Zhang has few savings, having donated more than 1 million yuan ($143,480) to the school over the past three decades. She still teaches at the school and lives in its dormitory with female students.
Following in her footsteps, many of the school’s graduates have chosen to work in remote areas.
Last year, Zhang was one of the recipients of the July 1 Medal, the highest honor given to members of the CPC, awarded for her outstanding contributions to education in mountainous regions.
“The company’s creative team spent 12 years preparing for the play,” said Ma Jie, president of the Yunnan Drama Theater. “Team members traveled often to visit Zhang, interview her and observe her life with the students.”
Ma added that “one of the best ways to create stage productions is to observe real life and inspire audiences with real stories”.
Amateur productions were also staged during the 13th China Art Festival and competed for the Qunxing Award.
The performances were in line with the guideline’s encouragement of stronger support for cultural facilities and activities in grassroots communities.
“Cultural resources will also play a key role in the vitalization of rural areas, and farmers are encouraged to organize their own art troupes, poetry festivals and exhibitions,” it said.
For the first time, this year’s Qunxing Award was given to choirs and public square dancers.
A square dance called Together For A Shared Future was one of the winners of the Qunxing this year. According to a report by Beijing Daily, the routine has proved popular with dance lovers, and over 3,300 cultural centers nationwide have performed the dance, which has been learned by an estimated 60 million people.
“Square dancing has become daily entertainment for many people. Combining music and dance, it’s a fun cultural activity for people to have while enjoying art,” said Wang Weibo, director of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Center.
One of the highlights of the new guideline is the development of cultural and artistic creativity and production involving a wide range of art forms such as literature, theater, film, TV, music, dance and fine arts. Art institutions are encouraged to create artworks by expanding their audiences online.
Traditional Chinese operas, such as Peking Opera, Kunqu Opera and Yuju Opera, have been revived through online streaming performances.
“Online platforms have become a second stage for traditional Chinese art forms, and as the guideline said, a new audience has been created thanks to the online platforms,” said Zhao Yafei, of the Beijing Overseas Cultural Exchange Center.
In 2020, the center launched a series of online programs as part of a collective effort entitled Culture Tour of Peking Opera, that invited Peking Opera artists and experts to participate in the programs combining performances, master classes and tourism.
For example, Sun Ying, an intangible cultural heritage inheritor and veteran handicrafter working with the Beijing Play Equipment Factory, gave an online tour of the facilities on Aug 8.
The factory produced the costumes that were worn by great Peking Opera masters, among them Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), Ma Lianliang (1901-66) and Cheng Yanqiu (1904-58).
According to Zhao, the online tour was viewed by over 2 million people, who learned about the opera masters and how their costumes were created.
Culture Tour of Peking Opera was launched to mark the 230th anniversary of the birth of Peking Opera, or jingju, which was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010.