Wenhai, the 53-year-old self-proclaimed Yanan Clay Sculpture King,
has three goals. First, he wants to build a 426-foot-tall statue of
Mao Zedong in Yanan, the Chinese Communist Party's historic
revolutionary base in the northwest. Then he wants to make a giant
memorial commemorating Mao's philosophies, with possibly a nod to
Karl Marx. Finally, if he has time, he wants to carve 25,000 tiny
statues of Mao to leave along the route of the Long March, the
6,000-mile trek that members of the fledgling Communist Party made
in the mid-1930s.
|Sculpting Mao's trek |
|Craig Simons NYT
Saturday, August 21, 2004
"If everyone were like Mao," said Wang, who
has been making Mao sculptures for three decades, "the world would
Of course not everyone thinks so highly of
Mao, who led the Communists to victory in 1949. Even Deng Xiaoping,
Mao's most prominent successor, signed off on a judgment that Mao
had made "gross mistakes."
But for Lu Jie, the curator of a
huge contemporary art project - "The Long March: A Walking Visual
Display," shown in Beijing and remote parts of western China -
letting people make up their own minds is exactly the
"We need to open a space to think about art, culture
and history," he said. "Criticism is very important." He said that
he spent a lot of his own money to put on the show and also received
donations from Chinese and foreigners. The artists, including Wang,
are contributing their works and time.
Lu said he chose the
9,600-kilometer Long March as a theme because no moment in modern
Chinese history was loaded with more patriotic symbolism.
1934 Mao and his followers fled their rural bases in southern China
as the Nationalist army closed around them. During the next year
they scaled mountains, forded rivers and crossed empty plains to
reach Yanan in Shaanxi Province. The journey was so arduous that
perhaps only a tenth of Mao's original force of 100,000 reached the
Less simple, though, are the layers of
propaganda that the government has heaped on the journey. Hundreds
of nationalistic films and documentaries have been made about it,
and every year students retrace parts of the route. "It has become
very heroic and romantic," Lu said. "But people need to find their
Despite a slow cultural opening,
Chinese academics are still forbidden to teach about many historical
events and such public testaments are rare.
contemporary artwork by about 250 artists, some Chinese and some
foreign, to 20 sites - mostly backwater towns along the Long March
route - Lu hopes to help that happen.
exhibition had visited a dozen sites before pausing in September for
a series of shows, including one with Wang's statues of Mao in a
tiny Beijing gallery. In Zunyi, a town where Mao wrestled control of
the party, the Beijing performance artist Wang Chuyu had volunteers
read from the Chinese Constitution.
The work of Wang Wenhai,
who was born to poor farmers in central China, also deals in memory.
Despite witnessing scores of neighbors starve during the widespread
famine that followed the government's forced collectivization of
farms in the late 1950s, he became an ardent Mao follower during the
Cultural Revolution. "In 1966 I became a Red Guard," he said. "I
studied Mao. I carried out the revolution."
Wang had a
perfectly proletariat background, and in 1970 he was sent to Yanan
to work as a tour guide at a museum celebrating the party. There he
met an artist who taught him sculpture, and he quickly applied the
craft to glorifying Mao. On the back of many of his works he still
inscribes the Cultural Revolution-era phrase, "Mao is the red sun in
our hearts!" But unlike most Chinese, many of whom suffered under
Mao, Wang did not discard his fanaticism after Mao died in
"Wang loves Mao," Lu, the curator, said. "He's totally
devoted to his art."
Lu said he hoped to take works and
documentation of his project abroad. Several pieces will be
exhibited at a biennale in Taipei in October. For the large shows,
he said, he will take several of Wang's statues.
Wang said he
needed the money to build the world's biggest Mao statue, to tower
over Yanan at 130 meters.
The New York Times