Deng Xiaoping
Original publication:

The People Need Art, But Art Needs The People Even More (1979)

10 minutes | English | China

Excerpts from “Speech Greeting the Fourth Congress of Chinese Writers and Artists.” The complete speech devotes attention to the struggle with the “Gang of Four” and the relationship between Party cadres and artists.

Our country has entered a new period, a period of socialist modernization. Alongside the expansion of our productive forces, we should also reform and improve our socialist economic and political structures, build a highly-developed socialist democracy, and perfect the socialist legal system. While working for a socialist civilization which is materially advanced, we should build one which is culturally and ideologically advanced by raising the scientific and cultural level of the whole nation and promoting a rich and diversified cultural life inspired by high ideals.


Our literature and art belong to the people. Our people are hardworking, brave, indomitable and resourceful, and full of ideals. They love the motherland and socialism. They have the interests of the whole nation at heart and their sense of discipline is strong. For thousands of years, and especially in the half century since the May 4th Movement, they have struggled arduously and confidently, overcoming all obstacles in their way and writing many brilliant chapters in our annals. No enemy, however strong, has subdued them and no difficulties, however great, have stopped their advance. Our literary and artistic creations must give expression to our people’s outstanding qualities and celebrate their triumphs in revolution, in construction, and in struggles against all kinds of enemies and hardships.

Our writers and artists should try harder to portray and help foster the new socialist man and achieve greater successes in doing so. We must portray the new features of the pioneers in the modernization drive, their revolutionary ideals and scientific approach, their lofty sentiments and creative ability, and their broad and realistic vision. Through images of this new man, we must stimulate the enthusiasm of the masses for socialism and inspire their creative activities, which are of historic significance in the pursuit of the four modernizations.

Our socialist writers and artists should create vivid, inspiring flesh-and-blood characters. Through them they should truthfully depict our rich social life and the inner qualities of our people as shown in their social relations, and give expression to the trend of historical development and to the demands of our progressive era. They should endeavour to educate the people in socialist ideology and imbue them with the drive and spirit necessary to build national strength and prosperity.

China has a long history, a vast territory, and a huge population. Our people are of many nationalities and of different professions, ages, experience and educational levels, and they have varied customs and cultural traditions and varied preferences in literature and art. All creative works — whether epic or brief, serious or humorous, lyrical or philosophical — should have their place in our garden of literature and art, so long as they help to educate and enlighten the people while providing them with entertainment and aesthetic pleasure. The deeds of heroes, the labour, struggles, joys and sorrows, partings and reunions of ordinary people, and the life of our contemporaries and of our predecessors — all these should be depicted in our works of literature and art. We should draw on and learn from all that is progressive and advanced in the literature, art and performing arts of old China, and of other countries as well.

We must adhere to the principle put forward by Comrade Mao Zedong — that literature and art should serve the broadest masses and, first of all, the workers, peasants and soldiers. We must always uphold the principles of “letting a hundred flowers bloom,” “weeding through the old to bring forth the new” and “making the past serve the present and foreign things serve China.” We should encourage the unhampered development of different forms and styles in literature and art, as well as the free discussion of theories of literature and art among exponents of different views and schools of thought. Lenin once said that in literature “greater scope must undoubtedly be allowed for personal initiative, individual inclination, thought and fantasy, form and content.” [1] With the four modernizations as our common objective, the road before literature and art should become broader and broader. Guided by the correct principles for creative work, writers and artists should deal with an ever wider range of themes, increasingly vary their means of expression, and dare to blaze new trails. We must guard against or overcome the tendency to be formulistic and abstract, which produces monotonous, stiff, mechanical and stereotyped works.


Writers and artists should conscientiously study Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought so as to enhance their own ability to understand and analyse life and to see through appearances to the essence. [2] We hope that more and more comrades in their ranks will become real “engineers of the human soul.” [3] In order to educate the people, one must first be educated himself; in order to give nourishment to the people, one must first absorb nourishment himself. And who is to educate and nourish our writers and artists? According to Marxism, the answer can only be: the people. It is the people who nurture our writers and artists. The creative life of all progressive writers and artists is rooted in their intimate ties with the people. Creativity withers when these ties are forgotten, neglected or severed. The people need art, but art needs the people even more. Writers and artists should consciously draw source material, themes, plots, language and poetic and artistic inspiration from the life of the people and be nourished by the dynamic spirit of the people, who make history. Fundamentally, this is the road which our socialist literature and art must take if it is to flourish. We believe that our writers and artists will march forward along this road steadily and unswervingly.

Writers and artists also need to constantly improve their professional skills. They should earnestly study, assimilate and expand upon all that is best in the literary and artistic techniques of every land and every age and perfect art forms with the distinctive features of our own nation and our own time. Only those writers and artists who defy difficulties, who study and practise diligently, and who dare to explore new ground can scale the artistic heights.

We sincerely hope that our writers and artists will unite more closely and expand their ranks. Whether professional or amateur, all socialist and patriotic writers and artists and all those who support the reunification of our motherland should try harder to help and learn from each other and to concentrate their energies on literary and artistic creation, study and criticism. It is for the people to judge the ideological and artistic value of a work. Listening with an open mind to criticism from different quarters and accepting useful advice are the key to constant progress and improvement. In literary and art circles we should encourage comradely, friendly discussions in which facts are presented and things are reasoned out. Such discussions should take place between creators who belong to different schools or work in different forms, between creators and critics, and between creators and their audiences. In the process, both criticism and counter-criticism should be permitted, the truth should be upheld and mistakes corrected.

Writers and artists of the older generation bear an important responsibility for discovering and training young people of talent. Our young writers and artists are vigorous and perceptive and in them lies the future of our literature and art. We should help them eagerly and also make strict demands on them, so that they will not become divorced from life but will make steady progress both ideologically and in their art. As for the middle-aged generation, they are the mainstay of our literary and art work, and we should make it possible for them to contribute all they can.

Special stress must be laid on the training of talented writers and artists. For a country as big as ours, with a population of over 900 million, we really have too few who are outstanding. This is quite out of keeping with the demands of our times. Through improved ideological and administrative work, we should create the necessary conditions for persons of outstanding talent to emerge and mature.


At the time of the founding of our People’s Republic, Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out that “an upsurge in economic construction is bound to be followed by an upsurge of construction in the cultural sphere.” After waging bitter struggles and overcoming many difficulties, we have smashed the Gang of Four and thus removed our biggest stumbling block. We can now say with full assurance that this upsurge will not take long to appear and that the conditions are daily ripening that will enable us genuinely to put into practice the Marxist policy of “letting a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend.” Thanks to the hard work of the masses of writers and artists, a new period of flourishing literature and art will unfold before us.

[1] V. I. Lenin, “Party Organization and Party Literature” (1905). [web] 

[2] “All science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.” — Karl Marx, “Capital Vol. III” (1894). 

[3] “As comrade Olesha aptly expressed himself, writers are engineers of human souls. The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks, and therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.” — J. V. Stalin, “Speech at home of Maxim Gorky” (1932). [web]