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The New Woodcut Movement of the 1930s and 40s was begun by the writer and scholar Lu Xun.

Although initially trained as a doctor, Lu Xun came to believe that the plight of the Chinese masses could be improved only through the widespread dissemination of socially aware art and literature. In the woodblock print, especially as developed by the German Expressionists, Lu Xun saw an effective tool for exposing the social ills of China. Artists influenced by Lu Xun focused on the inequities suffered by the lower classes. Due in part to this redirection in subject matter, the woodcut medium was perceived to be Western and modern although woodblock printing had been invented in China and had been widely used since the Tang dynasty.


What is the weapon of protest associated with Lu Xun in the woodcut portrait on the right?

Lu Xun (1881-1936)                        source


From the time of the May Fourth protests in 1919, Japan was seen as the greatest threat to China's sovereignty. By the 1930s Japan had taken over most of Manchuria and set up a puppet state there. In 1932 the Japanese attacked Shanghai directly to retaliate against anti-Japanese protests. Anger at Japanese aggression heightened Chinese nationalism. In the woodcuts of this period patriotic young artists called for resistance to the invaders and criticized the Nationalist government for not taking decisive action.

Does the woodcut medium enhance the emotional impact of the image to the left? Is so, how?

"Roar, China!"                                          source



In the early twentieth century,  assumptions about women's place in society that had gone unquestioned for centuries came under attack.


What do you think are some of the practices being criticized in this woodcut print? 

Do you see similarities to the print above?  




"Women of China"                               source  

Although Lu Xun was never an official member of the Communist Party, his emphasis on the exploitation of peasants and the working class fit well with the revolutionary message of the CCP.  In 1937, after Lu Xun's death, the Lu Xun Academy of Arts was established at the Communist base of Yan’an to instruct artists in the art of propaganda.  Woodblock prints were particularly suited for this purpose because they were relatively cheap and easy to copy.  By the 1940s there were artists traveling through the countryside distributing prints with ideological messages. 

In the 1943 woodcut below, what do you think is happening?  What role do you think the man in the long robe is playing? 


 1943 woodcut print by a Yanan artist                                                         source

Move on to PRC under Mao