Stages of History | Rent Collection Courtyard

The following text is taken from: Rent Collection Courtyard - Sculptures of Oppression and Revolt (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1968).

Foreword

This grand exhibition of life-size clay figures takes its setting from the former rent collection courtyard of Liu Wen-tsai, a tyrannical landlord of Tayi County, Szechuan Province in southwestern China. It recreates a profound, vivid and truthful picture of the raging class struggle in old China's countryside.

Before liberation the people of Tayi suffered untold misery through the brutalities of the local despots and the oppressive taxes levied by the Kuomintang reactionary government. Only three or four per cent of the local population were landlords, yet they occupied almost four-fifths of the arable land, mercilessly exploiting and oppressing the peasants and driving them to a life worse than that of beasts of burden. The Tayi of pre-liberation times was typical of the rest of semi-colonial and semi-feudal old China.

Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party headed by the great leader Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese people in 1949 completely threw off the rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism and established the People's Republic of China. Since then the people of Tayi, like those in other parts of China, have been liberated, they have set out on the socialist road and have marched bravely forward in the socialist revolution and in socialist construction.

The. more than a hundred sculptured figures portraying the story of rent collection are the work of a group of revolutionary Chinese art workers who, following a path lit by the invincible thought of Mao Tse-tung, creatively studied and applied Chairman Mao's works, completely immersed themselves in the lives of the workers, peasants and soldiers, and gave full play to their collective efforts.

The sculptures - arranged in six scenes - angrily condemn the feudal landlord class in old China for its heinous crimes in ruthlessly exploiting and oppressing the peasants; they deeply reflect the fierce class struggle, waged by hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party beaded by the great leader Chairman Mao Tse-tung, to overthrow the merciless rule of the feudal landlord class and to capture power for the people.

Rent Collection Courtyard offers a striking example of how sculpture can serve the workers, peasants and soldiers as well as socialism. It is a brilliant achievement of the great proletarian cultural revolution and a victory for the great thought of Mao Tse-tung.

INTRODUCTION TO RENT COLLECTION COURTYARD

The "Rent Collection Courtyard", a large group of life-size clay figures acclaimed as a milestone marking a new epoch in sculpture, was born in China's great proletarian cultural revolution. With the intense feelings of the proletariat and powerfully moving artistic images, it indicts the landlord class for its brutality and exploitation and depicts the suffering and struggle of the peasants before the liberation. It is another victory of the revolutionary artists who, guided by the great thinking of Mao Tse-tung, have resolutely followed the line laid down by him - that literature and art should serve the workers, peasants and soldiers and socialism.

The work was created collectively by eighteen amateur and professional sculptors of Szechuan province. It was put .on permanent display in autumn 1965, in the former manor house of Liu Wen-tsai, one-time despot and big landlord of Tayi county in Szechuan. The place has now become a museum where the blood crimes of the landlord class are exposed as a lesson for the masses in class struggle. The figures are on exhibit in the very courtyard where rent was collected in the old days.

AN IMMORTAL WORK

The work possesses a sharp and clear political content. The figures, divided into six sections, unfold a picture of the bitter class struggle in old China's countryside. Starting from the first section, where a group of indignant and miserable peasants are carrying their grain into the courtyard to pay their rent, the peasants' anger and hatred grow as they go step by step through the process of "examining the rent", "measuring the grain", "reckoning the accounts" - all cruel devices of the landlord for exploitation. And this anger and hatred reaches its height in the section "forcing the payment". Whether the young man pressganged into the army "to pay for his debt" or the mother put in the private jail of the landlord, all the victims show a burning class hatred and fury. In the last section, the rage and hatred have grown into a determined fighting spirit. The will to revolt is not only shown in the hate-filled eyes and clenched fists, but also in the muscles of face and body, standing out with the ready tension of wrath.

From beginning to end the figures make the people feel keenly the revolutionary strength of the peasant masses. Though the landlord and his henchmen look ruthless and ferocious, surrounded by a sea of the fury and hatred of the peasants, they are actually extremely feeble. Through the whole group runs the red revolutionary line: Wherever there is oppression, there will be revolt and struggle!

LEARNING FROM THE PEASANTS

The art of the "Rent Collection Courtyard" draws its source from the actual class struggle of the peasant masses. The artists resolutely followed Chairman Mao's instruction that writers and artists must integrate themselves with the workers, peasants and soldiers and learn from them. They lived and worked in the courtyard where rent had been collected. They created the entire group of figures right among the former tenants of Liu Wen-tsai, now commune members in the neighbourhood. The artists first became modest pupils of these former poor and lower middle peasants, listening attentively to their past sufferings and struggles and consciously trying to learn their noble revolutionary qualities. In going deep among the labouring people and learning from them, the artists' own thoughts and feelings gradually changed, until they could really take the stand of the former poor and lower middle peasants and intensely hate the exploiting classes and all systems of exploitation. Only in this way could they have created works with such strong class feeling.

CLASS STRUGGLE THE CENTRAL THEME

The artists seriously studied Chairman Mao's theories of classes, class contradiction and class struggle, and used his thinking to analyse the class relations in the rural areas of old China. Thus, through the outer appearance of the collecting of rent in this one courtyard, they could grasp the inner and real essence of the life-and-death struggle between the peasants and the landlord class. With class struggle as the central theme, they succeeded in making their work show the ruthless exploitation and oppression of the peasants not only by a particular landlord but all the landlords as a class, the contradiction not only between one landlord and his own tenants but between the landlord class and all peasants, the hatred and struggle not only in one rent collection courtyard but of all the peasants as a class. This way of treating the main theme enables their work to play an important role in the socialist education of the viewers, who are reminded never to forget that class enemies still exist and that they must never forget the class struggle.

The artists kept constantly in mind Chairman Mao's instruction that "whom to serve" is a fundamental question, and created their works always with a view to meeting the needs of the workers, peasants and soldiers. Precisely because of this attitude, they dared to scorn the bourgeois "authorities", to break through all the foreign rules that shackle revolutionary creativeness and to create new and original socialist proletarian works.

The artists cast aside the rules and conventions followed in making statues with plaster, marble, granite or bronze, and critically adopted the traditional techniques of making clay figures loved by the common folk in China. The figure is supported by a wooden frame over which clay mixed with straw is added, the outer coat being a combination of clay, sand and cotton. The use of black glass for eyes and the treatment of some of the drapery lines also come from this tradition. On the other hand, they critically took over some of the modern carving techniques that give these figures a greater realism than the ancient clay figures. Their experience serves as an example for other artists in making the past serve the present, making what is foreign serve China.

Of greater importance is the fact that this experience has blazed the trail in turning sculpture to the countryside to directly serve China's 500 million peasants. These clay figures not only meet the aesthetic demands of the labouring people but are much cheaper and quicker to do than statues in plaster and other materials. Straw and clay are available anywhere in the countryside. With such methods, amateur and professional artists can create and exhibit their works on the spot, whether they want to depict revolutionary history or reflect the life and struggle of socialist society today.

The artists completed the 114 figures in only four and a half months, about one figure a day. They were put on exhibition on National Day, October 1, 1965, in the former landlord's manor house. The exciting news caused many peasants to travel one or two hundred kilometres to see them. Their general comment was, "These figures are made for us! 0n our behalf, they accuse the landlords of their crimes. They speak for us!"

In autumn 1966, to satisfy the demand of the broad masses of workers, peasants and soldiers and young Red Guards, the Szechuan sculptors, with the cooperation of other revolutionary artists, made a complete new set for the capital, the original 114 figures being increased to 119. Of the many changes made, the greatest is found in the last part. Here the sculptors worked from Chairman Mao's teaching that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun", and developed the general spirit of resistance of the previous figures into a stirring scene of armed struggle led by the Chinese Communist Party. To integrate this change with the whole series, the sculptors introduced new touches to figures in other sections, strengthening their spirit of resistance and heightening the impact of the images. The improvements have brought "Rent Collection Courtyard" to a still higher ideological and artistic level.

The work has been seen by several million visitors in Peking. That a work of sculpture has such an impact on the people has no precedent in history. Its success has once again demonstrated the greatness and brilliance of Mao Tse-tung's thinking. Only when art is in the service of proletarian politics, when it becomes a powerful weapon for uniting and educating the people, for hitting and destroying the enemy, can it be enthusiastically appreciated by the broad masses of workers, peasants and soldiers.

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