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The Peasant Paintings of Hu County

These colorful paintings emerged in Huxian County (about 25 miles southwest of Xian City in central China) from a tradition that included paper cutting, embroidery, and other folk arts. In the 1950s farming families began to produce colorful paintings at home. Most depicted the daily life of the countryside, such as festival celebrations, harvest activities, feeding livestock, children playing, local operas, village traditions, pastoral scenes, elders’ pastimes, and more. The paintings are rendered using brilliant colors and bold and simple styles full of a naive charm that clearly and directly communicates the feeling of folk life.

In the second half of the Cultural Revolution (the early 1970s), the works of these so-called peasant artists attracted nation-wide attention and support and came to be known as the “Peasant Painting”.  As the peasants, workers and soldiers were regarded as the masters of the country,  these painters were promoted as representatives of the innate creative genius of the great working class, as living proof that anyone could create art.

During the Cultural Revolution, many professional artists were sent to the countryside to be “re-educated” and naturally and inevitably they became teachers of the peasant painters. The peasant painters were taught visual composition, presentation, and technique. A comparison of works created during the Cultural Revolution with earlier examples of Huxian folk painting from the late 1950s and early 1960s, gives clear evidence of these professional influences. The flat, single-dimensional figures of the early paintings were replaced with more three-dimensional figures, and the later works testify to a more sophisticated use of perspective.

The Huxian painters’ portrayal of good harvest, happy countryside life and beautiful landscapes were used as propaganda for their depictions of the good life of the happy and enthusiastic peasants in the rural areas under
the communist government.