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A Telling Image: PRC Propaganda during the Cultural Revolution

February 2nd, 2009 by areed · No Comments

Chairman Mao Inspectes the Guangdong Countryside

毛主席視察廣東農村 Mao Zhuxi shicha Guangdong nongcun
Chen Yanning 

1972, Beijing

I chose this poster, which is one of many in the Picturing Power gallery (http://kaladarshan.arts.ohio-state.edu/exhib/poster/exhibintro.html) that are reminiscent, for Western viewers, of Norman Rockwell images. Though the poster was printed in 1972, it still employs the almost cartoon-like, bright style found in children’s book illustrations or seen often in advertising in the 1950s and early 1960s in the US. For all these purposes (Rockwell, Kids’ books, advertising etc.) the illustration, instead of an actual photograph,serves to present a generality or an ideal, not reality. Though a photograph in 1972 could have produced a color image like this one, very life-like illustration is employed instead of the even more accurate photograph so as to better promote abstract ideals like “hope” by, in a sense, drawing them into the picture. A photo would never have captured the impossible ideal and serenity being expressed through the artists’ drawing; neither in the idolizing expressions on the peasant’s faces nor in the thriving countryside and blue skies.

Even Mao looks young, tall and strong in this poster, though a photograph might have shown a more tiredM Mao, as he was very old and would die within the next two years. Mao, as the trustworthy, friend-of-the-peasant, leads the diverse, joyous, exuberant group down a road that might symbolize a road to the future. This road is one familiar to the peasant: a rural road that requires the peasants to contribute to its success. It is built by the peasant and for the peasant. Still, the juxtaposition of Mao, in his plain, yet, still clean suit clothes and shoes, with the peasants, barefooted and worn-down work clothes, is a bit odd. He is carrying a field hat along with some of the others, but this picture clearly separates the leader with the ordinary people. That leaves me with a few questions about the image’s message. Is the leader, even as humble and down-to-earth as he may be, still in a different station (dare I say, “class”?) than the rest of China? Or was this a mistake on the part of the artist, who was merely trying to present Mao as a strong leader? 

Tags: Hist 471: Chinese Culture in 20th Century