China's greatest contemporary film star -- himself a victim of the Cultural Revolution -- has made a passionate plea for greater freedom in literature and the arts. The plea was made all the more poignant in that it was published just two days before hsi passing Oct. 10.
Zhao Dan is a household word in China, with an acting career going back to the 1930s in Shanghai, where he played in the "Doll's House" opposite Lan Ping (who later married Mao Tse-tung and became notorious as Jiang Qing, leader of the all-powerful "gang of four" during the 10-year turmoil of the Cultural Revolution).
Politically committed to the communists, Mr. Zhao suffered imprisonment twice , first for five years under a fascist warlord in Xinjiang (Sinkiang), then for another five years during the Cultural Revolution. From the viewpoint of China's present rulers, therefore, Zhao's credentials are impeccable.
Despite being gravely ill in a Peking hospital, Zhao threw himself into the current debate on the role of the Communist Party in literature and the arts with all his customary enthusiasm.
"How a writer writes, how an actor acrs, is his own affair!" he exclaimed. "If the party controls literature and the arts in too great detail, there is no hope for literature and the arts, they are done for!
"What creative writer became a writer just because the party told him to do so? Did Lu Xun and Mao Dun [famous Chinese authors] begin to write only after they had heard the voice of the party?"
Zhao made his comments in a conversation with Hu Qiaomu, member of the Communist Party secretariat and president of the Academy of Social Sciences, who came to visit him in hospital. The comments were edited and published in the People's Daily of Oct. 8.
Zhao comes perilously close to rejecting the party's right to any control over literature and the arts. The way for the party to strengthen and improve its control in this field, he says, is to resolutely stick to the policy of "letting one hundred flowers bloom, one hundred schools of thought contend." He thinks it intolerable that control over literature as such should be vested in party bureaucrats who are complete laymen in the field, who claim to be "champion swimmers" but who can only "stick up like candlesticks" once at the swimming pool.
"Creative work in literature and the arts is the most individualistic thing," he says. "It cannot be carried out through a show of hands. You can discuss it , you can criticize it, you can encourage it, you can applaud it. History shows that literature and the arts are not and cannot be restricted."
Zhao fell afoul of Jiang Qing early in his career, when she was turned down for the part of Juliet that she wanted to play to his Romeo. She apparently never forgot the humiliation, for soon after the Cultural Revolution began, Zhao was arrested and placed in solitary confine ment for five years. When he emerged his family could hardly recognize him.
After his full rehabilitation following the fall of Jiang Qing and her "gang of four" in October 1976, Zhao led a busy and active life teaching, writing, and directing. He was planning to star in a film on Lu Xun, China's greatest modern writer. This film was put off time and again because of the interference of party bureaucrats who set themselves up as judges over what the masses should or should not be allowed to see.
Along with the retrospective showing of early masterpieces such as "Street Angels" or the later "Li Shizhen," Zhao's elequent final plea for a loosening of the straitjacket that has long constricted creative work in China is certain to echo across a country groping its way to greater freedom of creative endeavor.