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Nadia Sheung-ying Lau. The Meeting of East and West: Wu Guanzhong and Michael Sullivan

After the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, China reopened its doors to the West, making contact with the wider world again possible. Between 1981 and 1992, the French-educated Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong (1919–2010) had a regular correspondence with Michael Sullivan (1916–2013), a pioneering scholar in the study of modern Chinese art and an Emeritus Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford (Fig. 1).

When Wu and Sullivan began exchanging letters, the slogan “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend!”—enunciated by Mao for his cultural policy in 1958—was resurrected by Deng Xiaoping (1904–97) as a part of his reform program. The general trend of cultural policy at that time gave increased latitude to writers and artists. Having since the 1950s been denounced as a ‘bourgeois formalist’, Wu Guanzhong was brimming with excitement about the creative freedom. He wrote to his students, sincerely expressing his confidence in the ‘liberation war of art that creates new style’, urging them to be brave and to ‘overcome conservative forces, liberate yourselves and liberate the minions in the art field’ (Shui, 2007, p. 13). 

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January/February 2021
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