China to Send Filmmakers to Countryside for "Ideological Training"

Mao Andy Warhol P

In a Mao Zedong-style move, authorities tell China's media elite it should learn from the peasantry

In the latest in what is being seen as a crackdown on cultural affairs in the country, China's media watchdog wants to send filmmakers and TV producers to the countryside "to do field study and experience life."

The move, which chimes with the ideological conditioning of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, was proposed by the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), which said it will organize trips for film and TV series production staff to go to grassroots communities, villages, military barracks and mining sites. Each trip would last at least 30 days.

"This will be a boost in helping artists form a correct view of art and create more masterpieces. The program will be long-term," SAPPRFT said in a statement on its website.

The watchdog will also send scriptwriters, directors and casting agents to live among the masses each year.

It's the latest evidence that China's ruling Communist Party is taking a hard-line approach to cultural affairs.

In October, President Xi Jinping made a speech at a forum on culture in which he said that the purpose of art is to serve socialism and the people, a stark reminder of China’s undimmed Marxist-Leninist credentials, and must not bear “the stench of money” nor be “slaves to the market.”

This Communist blowback comes as China's media industry is increasingly flexing its financial muscle internationally. China's Dalian Wanda Group, which controls U.S. exhibitor AMC Entertainment, is in talks to buy Hunger Games producer Lionsgate. The Shanghai Media Group has expanded its co-production partnership with Walt Disney Co., and online giants including Alibaba and Baidu are eyeing possible Hollywood acquisitions. 

The field trip proposals have uncomfortable similarities to the Cultural Revolution, a period of ideological frenzy unleashed by Communist Chairman Mao Zedong between 1966 and 1976. During the "Down to the Countryside" movement, artists and intellectuals were sent to rural areas to work the fields side by side with the peasantry.

Chairman Mao, modern China's founding father, described the countryside "a vast expanse of heaven and earth where we can flourish."

SAPPRFT will choose 100 broadcasters, news anchors and directors from state broadcaster CCTV each year from central and local TV shows to work in ethnic minority and border areas, as well as areas that made major contributions to the country's victory in the revolutionary war.

Movies, TV shows and visual arts have all experienced more censorship under the stewardship of President Xi. Any artists seen as challenging the role of the Communist Party are muzzled; filmmaker Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin was banned, Ning Hao's No Man's Land was only released years after its launch with heavy editing, and the dissident artist Ai Weiwei remains under house arrest in Beijing.

Another of Mao's remarks was: "There is, in fact, no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from, or independent of, politics."