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Posted: January 20, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Daily Lives: Peasant Paintings of China

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Folk art today in China is abundant and varied. While most of this art is simpler than that of the high culture of Chinese civilization, it often reflects the same values. The great regional variety in folk art is similar in themes and styles throughout the country. Peasant paintings, puppets, woodblock prints, paper-cuttings and, in northern Shaanxi, even bread is a kind of folk art. Most of these forms have existed for many centuries.

The contemporary folk art (peasant) painting style is believed to have developed in the late 1950s when Hu Xian (Hu County) peasants were building a new reservoir. They began painting pictures of the work in progress to record the work and encourage themselves. These first peasant painters used soot, lime and the red soil of the area to make paint. The County Communist Party Committee organized art classes so that professionals could teach these peasants how to paint.

Hu Xian peasants continued to paint, and during China’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution their work was used to prove to the outside world that common, ordinary workers could produce works of art. The paintings focused on ordinary life and work was often the focus. Many of these early paintings were clearly political, with titles like "I Grow Grain and Cotton for our Motherland" and "Never Forget the State after a Good Harvest."

Common themes of this period included meetings about education, about solving local problems through discussion, and always about working cooperatively to achieve common goals.

This exhibit, "Daily Lives: Peasant Painting of China" has been prepared by Ding Jitang and Drs. Edward and Sylvia Krebs, who have cooperated for more than a decade. Ding has been a major figure in Hu Xian painting project. He graduated from the Shaanxi Provincial Art College in the early 1960s, having gone from his home in the southern part of Shaanxi to the college, located in Xi’an. Assigned to Hu County, early on he began to teach others and foster the work that became the Hu Xian peasant painting movement. These peasant paintings from the 1950s and 1960s readily became part of broad efforts to build China as a nation and to create a cooperative socialist society. Drs. Ed and Sylvia Krebs, both history professors and China experts, have been working and teaching between the U.S. and China since the mid-1980s.

The art work in this exhibit is representative of peasant painting today in general. Color is a major element and is used across subject matter.

The exhibit of peasant art will bring to the community an historical and cultural slice of China that is not commonly viewed as today’s programs more often focus on economic advances and urbanization or ancient archaeological history. The Peasant Painter Exhibit is a reminder that 65 percent of the Chinese population still lives a rural existence. There are parallels to be drawn culturally to he economic development of America’s own rural areas.

This folk art will be on display at the Georgia Perimeter College Newton campus during the month of February. For more information, call (678) 891-3556. This program is made available through the support of the Georgia Council for the Humanities and Georgia Perimeter College.

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