Work Song (1962) by Wang WenbinCAFA Art Museum

In China, particularly prior to Reform and Opening, building houses in rural areas required tamping down the earth with a stone to lay a solid foundation, and laborers sang and chanted as they performed this task. The culture of work songs and chants sprang from this kind of labor.

Work Song was Wang Wenbin’s graduate work in the oil painting major, made based on sketches he had done in the Yimeng Mountains. In 1962, this work was shown at the “New Buds Art Exhibition,” where it received widespread recognition and became a classic of Chinese realist painting.

Viewers are naturally infected with the happiness of the five girls working in the center of the painting. Their long hair and garments fly in the wind.

The girl in the red shirt in the middle pulls up the tamping stone with both hands, her face all smiles.

The four girls around her each pull on a rope. With the rhythm of the work song, they pull back with all their strength, lifting the stone together.

The clear sky is dotted with resplendent clouds, and the strong sunlight shines through to the earth.

Several other work teams can be glimpsed in the distance, also working happily. The red flags of the building site flutter in the wind, drawing the viewer’s eye into the distance and linking several groups of workers together.

Many people were working on the constructions.

Trucks were passing by loaded with construction materials.

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