On Oct. 15, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a “Forum on Art and Literature” in Beijing. To students of Chinese history, the title of the event was familiar; in 1942, then Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong gave his signature “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art.” At that earlier forum, Mao said that “literature and art are subordinate to politics.” That statement changed the fate of millions of Chinese people, beginning a highly controlled ideological era in which artists became (and could only be) spokespeople for the ruling party. Seventy years later, at a forum attended by a few dozen prominent authors, scriptwriters, actors, dancers, and other government officials, Xi called for art workers to serve socialist ends and not to be “slaves” to the market.
Xi’s remarks touched a national nerve, spurring eager conversations on social media the next day. On Weibo, China’s Twitter, a search for “Forum on Art and Literature” yields 230,000 results. Many netizens directed their ire at a particular participant in the forum: author Zhou Xiaoping. Xi had specifically lauded Zhou, as well as another forum participant, Hua Qianfang, encouraging them to continue to write “works that carry positive energy.” The term “positive energy” is recent code for speech that toes the party line.
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