Art: The Dynasties Preserved

One of the scare stories about China that circulated in the '60s, especially during the brief ride of the Red Guards, was that Maoism had flung out the past: 3,000 years of willow-pattern tranquillity overthrown, Confucius and Mencius consigned to the paper shredder, and the arts of the ancestral dynasties—Chou and Han, T'ang and Sung, Ming and Chi'ing—abandoned as relics of decadent feudalism, replaced by the cast-concrete colossus of Mao or the agitprop poster of beaming, eupeptic tractor drivers exceeding their norm in Szechwan province.

This, like so many of our ideas about China,...

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