Creating National Narrative: The Red Guard Art Exhibitions and the National Exhibitions in the Chinese Cultural Revolution 1966 - 1976

Winnie Tsang


The artistic development in China experienced drastic changes during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Traditional Chinese art was denounced, whereas propaganda art became predominant in shaping the public’s loyalty towards the Communist Party and the country. Two major groups of art exhibitions emerged during the Revolution—the unofficial Red Guard art exhibitions organized by student activists in collaboration with local communes and art schools between 1966 and 1968, and the state-run national exhibitions from 1972 to 1975. These exhibitions were significant to this period because they were held frequently in the capital city Beijing and occasionally elsewhere, and through art they presented unique revolutionary beliefs to the Chinese people in a public setting. While the Red Guard art exhibitions and the national exhibitions certainly created different national narratives, I argue that the national exhibitions were in fact an attempt to revise the national narrative created by the Red Guard art exhibitions in order to re-establish a more utopian, consistent, and official national narrative. This paper unravels the intricate relationship between the two groups of exhibitions by comparing their exhibition venues, ideological focuses, work selection and quality editing.



National Narrative; Cultural Revolution; Mao Zedong; Propaganda Art; Red Guards; Art Exhibitions; National Exhibitions

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