This is so sad because the political pendulum is swinging back towards Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I have been interested in China from childhood and studied some modules of Chinese history at college when that was rare. When I met the artist Qu Leilei, I thought I was well informed about China. He told me a story I didn’t know. He was a founder of the Stars Art Movement and at the front of their march to Tiananmen Square on October 1. 1979. They demanded, ‘In Politics Democracy and in Art Freedom.‘ In the 1979 photograph Qu Leilei is second on right holding a poster. Ma Desheng -on crutches- now lives and works in Paris .
I wondered why so few people in the West had heard of them. It made me determined to tell their story. The story of that period of optimism and change in China is at the heart of my novel Brushstrokes in Time. Qu Leilei was a lighting technician at the trial of the first Democracy leader Wei Jingsheng and recorded his show trial. Wei believes Leilei saved his life.
Although the main story arc of Brushstrokes in Time is about a fictional artist called Little Winter, I found a way of weaving Wei Jingsheng’s trial into the narrative including some of the cross examination. It is depressing that China is returning to the an era of political show trials like Wei’s below.
The British Museum own this painting by Qu Leilei. Mao used the probably fictional character of Lei Feng to encourage god like devotion. Qu Leilei was present at the uncovering of the terracotta warriors in 1976. In this painting he portrayed Lei Feng as a clone of a terracotta warrior. That is relevant to what is happening in China.