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Exporting the Communist Image: The 1976 Chinese Peasant Painting Exhibition in Britain

Emily Williams
Published Online: 2015-01-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ngs-2014-0030


In 1976 an exhibition of Chinese peasant paintings toured Britain. Made by amateur peasant painters from Huxian (户县), the works were widely celebrated in the British art world for their optimistic portrayal of the new socialist countryside. Analysis of the exhibition’s reviews in newspapers and art journals demonstrate, however, that what appealed to the British critics was less the art itself and more the art system in China in which amateurs were encouraged to paint. This was contrasted to a British and Western art world that many left-wing artists and critics deemed to be elitist, overly conceptual and out of touch with the wider public. The success of the Huxian exhibition then needs to be seen in the context of the debates and criticisms of the British art world that took place throughout the 1970s. It also needs to be contextualized within the broader interest in China, Chinese communism and the Cultural Revolution that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s. This essay therefore explores the broader British interest in China in the 1970s and argues that the success of the Huxian peasant painting exhibition was the result of a unique convergence of events in late 1970s Britain.

Keywords: Huxian; Huxian peasant painting; Chinese Communist art; British art exhibitions; amateur art; 1970s


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-01-07

Published in Print: 2014-12-01

Citation Information: New Global Studies, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages 279–305, ISSN (Online) 1940-0004, ISSN (Print) 2194-6566, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ngs-2014-0030.

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