Chinese calligraphy has traditionally been an emblem of the ruling class and its authority. After a century of mass revolution, what is the fate of this elite art? Richard Curt Kraus explores the interplay of politics and the art of writing in China today to explicate the complex relationship between tradition and modernity in Chinese culture. His study draws on a wide range of sources, from political documents, memoirs, and interviews with Chinese intellectuals to art exhibitions and television melodramas.
Mao Zedong and other Communist leaders gave calligraphy a revolutionary role, believing that their beloved art lent authority to their words and deeds. Combined with new propagandistic mass media, calligraphy in the People's Republic became more a public performance than a private art. Mass education sparked new interest in this ancient scholarly art, which has provided politically engaged citizens with subtle cues to changing power structures. Beijing has even used calligraphy to smooth relations with Japan, Taiwan, and the overseas Chinese.
Much writing on China offers sweeping assertions about the contemporary relevance of traditional Chinese culture. Where some commentators insist that the Communists have obliterated the old ways, others believe that a century of revolution has failed to relieve the burden of China's past. Kraus examines the changing uses of an important aspect of Chinese tradition and concludes that China, like any other nation, modernises those parts of its tradition that powerful groups find most useful and discards those that have lost social basis.
Richard Curt Krause is Professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon. He is the
author of Class Conflict in Chinese Socialism (1981) and Pianos and Politics in China (1989)
1st edition Hb, 208pp, 60 monocrome illustrations, 16 x 23.5 cm