Introduction to “A Conversation between Chinese Artists and Mexican Painter David Alfaro Siqueiros”

In October 1956, the Mexican muralist David Siqueiros traveled Beijing and engaged in two dialogues with artists from the Chinese Artists’ Association. His visit came at an inflection point in China’s foreign and cultural policy. As Sino-Soviet relations deteriorated, China used cultural diplomacy to cultivate relationships with unaligned countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. China’s cultural policy mirrored this shift by relaxing its adherence to Soviet-style Socialist Realism and promoting new stylistic practices, including a revival of ink painting techniques. This policy shift re-animated a debate among Chinese artists over the best mode of representation for socialist art, with one side arguing that Soviet-style Socialist Realism was the only acceptable style, and the other advocating for the reform of Chinese ink painting techniques. Within this context, Siqueiros’s criticism of Soviet artists and his advice to follow Chinese stylistic traditions set off a rich discussion on new approaches to Socialist Realism within China.

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