Dating from the 1950s to the 1980s, this collection of propaganda ranges across one of the most significant periods in Chinese history, from shortly after the establishment of the People's Republic of China to the years following the death of its controversial leader, Mao Zedong.
Collection of Chinese propaganda material from the mid-late 20th century by Unknown Artist, 19501989
© The artists
- Art Fund grant:
- £15,000 ( Total: £45,000)
- Acquired in:
- Peter Wain
Throughout these years, propaganda played a key role in establishing a national identity for the People's Republic of China and communicating the achievements of its government. Popularly known as Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong (sometimes rendered in Latin script as Mao Tse-tung) joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after reading the works of Karl Marx at university, rising through its ranks to become China's leader after the republic was established as a one-party state in 1949. Mao's image is prevalent throughout the propaganda, whether wearing his straw hat as a man of the people, looking confidently towards the future, or beaming from the sky as a beacon of hope. In Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan , the leader is foregrounded above a sea of mists broken by mountain peaks. The image recalls Caspar David Friedrich's wanderer, but with its hero turned to face the viewer: not a Nietzschean individualist but a man of the people. Another recurring image is the boyish face of Lei Feng, a soldier in the People's Liberation Army whose death at 21 made him a martyr for the virtues the CCP sought to promote. One poster urges citizens to Learn from Lei Feng's Excellent Example: Love the Party, Love Socialism, Love the People, a message which continues to resonate in the CCP's current 'Practise Lei Feng Spirit' campaign. Other slogans adopt a more aggressive rhetoric: Those who are against Chairman Mao will have their dog skulls smashed, runs the caption to a print depicting a group of Red Guards. The destruction and condemnation of traditional art forms during the Cultural Revolution meant that for many living under Mao, propaganda wasn't merely the most accessible form of art it was the only accessible form of art. Its images and iconography continue to resonate in the art and culture of 21st-century China, a key thread in the emerging superpower's creation story.