A Punishing Regime

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Upon receiving news that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) led by the Communist Party had captured Nanking, seat of the Nationalist Party government of the Republic of China, Mao Zedong wrote a poem in celebration. This followed on from articles Mao wrote in which he derided the failed policies of the United States in China, and their support for Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government. In ‘Trapped in Nanking’, K.M. Pannikar describes the ‘post-Liberation’ scene in the city, far from the poetic dance of Mao’s poem. This is followed by an on-the-ground report of the immediate impact that the ‘liberation’ of the city had on the print media.

In 1954, Mao, at the height of his authority as the successful founder of New China, circulated a letter to members of the ruling Politburo of the Communist Party in which he called on his comrades to appreciate the ideological battle being fought over the country’s cultural heritage. That letter, reprinted here, spoke about the new Marxist-Leninist interpretations of China’s most famous novel, The Story of the Stone 石頭記 (also known as Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢). The novel, written by Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 at the height of the Qing dynasty in the mid to late eighteenth century, was said to have been influenced by the Stone City 石頭城, that is Nanking (or Jiangning 江寧 as it was known at the time). Mao’s letter led to a nationwide purge of academia resulting in the imposition of pro-Party guidelines (and policing) in China’s universities thereafter. The effects of Mao’s letter on Dream of the Red Chamber are still felt in Chinese academia.

As the capital of the Chinese republic, Nanking had attracted numerous cultural figures, including leading artists. After 1949, a number of prominent figures chose to stay in the defunct capital. They would champion a revised version of the Jinling School of art. Some of their number were then called on to create a monumental art work that would celebrate the first decade of the People’s Republic of China. The painting they created was an illustration of Mao Zedong’s most famous poem, ‘Snow’ 雪, written in 1936. It is a centrepiece in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing to this day.