Envisioning the Third World: Modern Art and Diplomacy in Maoist China

In the mid-1950s, China conducted robust cultural exchange with the Third World in tandem with a parallel political program to influence non-aligned nations in contestation to the Soviet Union and Western powers. This article examines this underrecognized facet of Maoist-era art through the international engagements of two Xi’an artists, Shi Lu (1919–1982) and Zhao Wangyun (1907–1977), who traveled to India and Egypt as cultural attaché of the Chinese state. By tracing the travels of the two artists in light of their artistic and theoretical formulations, this article argues that contact with decolonizing spheres of the Third World inspired Chinese artists to embrace forms of indigenous Chinese art like ink painting in rejection of Euro-American modernism. In solidarity with other non-Western art spheres that developed similar nativist responses to the hegemony of Western modernism, Chinese artists belonged to a global postwar movement to assert political independence through artistic autonomy and national style.

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