China sends its top actors and directors back to socialism school

By Simon Denyer and Luna Lin

BEIJING — Culture is the soul of the nation, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in a key speech last month. And like Chairman Mao Zedong before him, Xi believes that Chinese culture must serve socialism and the Communist Party.

This week, more than 100 of the nation’s top filmmakers, actors and pop stars were gathered for a day in the city of Hangzhou to be told exactly what that meant in practice, and to study the spirit of the 19th Party Congress, where Xi gave that speech and set out his “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

A socialist culture with Chinese characteristics, China’s president said last month, should promote socialist material well being, raise socialist cultural-ethical standards, and be guided by Marxism. Writers and artists should simultaneously reflect real life and “extol our Party, our country, our people and our heroes.”

This is not a new theme for Xi — he made a similar call at a speech back in October 2014 — nor is it a new idea for China. Indeed, Xi was consciously evoking the words of Communist China’s first leader Mao, who told a forum of artists in 1942 that art should reflect the lives of the working class and serve the advancement of socialism.

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