Friday 21 August 2009

Chinese Propoganda Posters

I recently sold an article at Constant Content for non-exclusive rights. This meant I could place it on a pay per click site as well, so it's now on Helium where I will also get a small upfront payment for it. And I thought it might interest some of you as well. It's all about posters that have been produced and displayed in China. Here's how it starts.

Many countries in the world make use of art for propagandist purposes. China is a master of this, with a flurry of propaganda posters going back to at least the 1930s. This is even before the setting up of the People’s Republic in 1949, with Mao Zedong as President, at the end of the civil war when Chang Kai Shek and the Kuomintang withdrew to Taiwan.

Collectors in the west find these posters fascinating and some change hands for exorbitant prices. A number of dealers operate on the internet, including Hinky Import and In China, you can still pick them up in the antique markets of the cities. But it can be difficult to know if posters are genuine. Some experienced collectors can tell by the look, feel and smell of the paper. Another important aspect is to be aware of recent Chinese history.

That way, you can recognise what the poster is about and whether the details are correct. For example, many posters show people waving the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao’s Quotations. This could not have happened before it was published, so if the poster is dated before 1964, it has to be a fake.

To Western eyes, some of the subjects of these posters can seem inexcusable in view of what was happening in the country at the time they were produced. When Mao Zedong was introducing his new policy on agriculture in his first five year plan starting in 1953, its aim was to transform the rural peasant society into a collective of cooperatives, with farming mechanised and under government control. But those governing were not farmers and often made mistakes. The propaganda messages of good harvests contrasted starkly with the reality of famine and starvation in the rural areas as the years went by.

One of the new policies was an edict to kill sparrows because people in power thought they raided the grain and affected the harvest. A famous propaganda poster shows a young boy aiming with a sling shot, while a girl beside him holds a string of dead trophy sparrows. It was a common pursuit for children of the cooperatives. But in fact, the sparrows fed on the insects that would otherwise feed on the crops. They were important protectors of the fields and when they were hunted out of existence, a plague of locusts devastated the harvest in 1958.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Pic is 1935 poster of Manchukuo State Council of Emperor Kang-de Puyi; uploaded to Wikipaedia by Nickpo.

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