The Slatest

China Follows Wordplay Ban With Program to Help “Form a Correct View of Art”

President Xi Jinping of China.

Pool New/Reuters

Chinese state media has announced government plans to dispatch artists, filmmakers, and TV crews to rural areas to help artists and townspeople form “correct” views on art, according to the Guardian. The plan follows on the heels of a fresh ban on wordplay and puns, and has drawn comparisons to Mao Zedong’s tactics during China’s Cultural Revolution, when intellectuals and artists were sent to labor alongside peasants on public works projects.

In an October address to an assembly of prominent Chinese artists, authors, actors, dancers, and screenwriters in Beijing, President Xi Jinping warned artists against becoming slaves to the marketplace and stressed the importance of patriotism in their work. He said it was important for art to encourage a “correct” view of history and promote national pride.

Xi said artists should avoid creating work tainted by the “stench of money,” according to state news agency Xinhua. “Fine art works should be like sunshine from blue sky and breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles,” he said. 

Back in October, Chinese media outlets compared Xi’s comments on the role of the arts to iconic 1942 remarks by Mao Zedong at the Ya’nan Forum. In that speech, Mao told his audience that a military army would not be enough to ensure the success of Communism and the liberation of the Chinese people; a cultural army would also be necessary. 

In today’s China, Xi’s ramped-up pushback against state corruption has been coupled with increased regulation and scrutiny directed at the arts. Xi’s crackdown has involved banning scenes of one-night stands and adultery on TV, forbidding the broadcast of movies starring actors who have used drugs, and seizing 82 pounds of gold and the deeds for 168 houses from the home of one senior Party official.        

Just last week, the country’s media regulators denounced puns and called for tighter censorship of them, citing that puns lead to “cultural and linguistic chaos.” Strict regulation of language is nothing new in China. Earlier this year the People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Communist Party, condemned the influx of foreign words like “WiFi” and “VIP” into the popular Chinese vernacular. The idea that language is linked to deeper cultural values can be traced back to tight linguistic control under what some have termed Mao’s program of “linguistic engineering.”

China has nearly a quarter of the share of the international art market, according to the BBC, but it remains to be seen how Xi’s arts and media policy changes will affect the global art market at large. In the meantime, as the Wall Street Journal notes in a cruelly ironic headline, there’s “Nowhere to Pun.”