On Monday, as a part of our Shanghai 21st Century City class, we went on a field trip to the Shanghai Propoganda Poster Art Centre. I can easily say hands down that this was one of my most favorite places that I’ve been to in Shanghai; it was SO cool and very interesting to say the least.
The Centre is run by a man who has collected propaganda art posters over the years, from as early as the 1920s, up to the establishment of PRC, and even into and after the Cultural Revolution.
To me, this was just SO COOL. It tied a lot of concepts together for me; between things I’ve read and discussions I’ve had in class, much of what happened in China between 1949 and 1979 seems almost like an alternate universe society that doesn’t actually exist in this world. But through physically seeing these posters–propaganda posters that Chinese people saw every day during these times–I was finally able to start to understand the climate of the day.
Now technically, we *weren’t* supposed to take pictures while we were there, but I saw an opportunity for my blogging beat AND other people were also shamelessly taking photos. I was nice and did not use flash and I hold that it was for educational purposes only. Regardless, I will refrain from tagging this post, just in case anyone is offended by it (not that you should be).
The use of women and children in many of the posters was just fascinating. Here, an older, traditional Chinese culture (as represented by the women) is contrasted with a newer, advanced era, represented by the rocket (space race time) and the children (the future of China).
Mao’s little red books were very commonly seen in many of the posters (above, below) especially during the Cultural Revolution-era.
In the above poster, the use of English in many of these was very interesting to me. In many cases, I was reminded of George Orwell’s “1984”; looking at the posters over the time progression, you could see that China was clear enemies with some countries at first, and then eventually came to support that country, and vice versa. Pre-1979ish, there were so many anti-American and pro-Russia posters; after China and US started initiating relations, those anti-American posters lessened, and eventually China and the US shared Russia as a common enemy.
ALSO, BONUS! dork alert: if you can see, under the characters in this poster are some pseudo-pinyin-like letters, “jin zhi he wu qi”; I don’t know what that acutally means, but considering the likely level of English of most people at that time, why on EARTH are there romanized letters? Around this time was when China reformed its language: Mandarin (putonghua, 普通话) became the standard dialect, and with that came the simplification of Chinese characters and the development of pinyin so that Chinese would be easier to learn (and also probably for some political reasons, but that’s another story). Since no one really knew pinyin, and furthermore no one outside of Beijing knew how to pronounce the Mandarin dialect, I guess it became standard to implement the romanized pinyin letters under words so that people would know how to pronounce it. Coming from someone who is obsessed with languages/linguistics/language acquisition, THIS IS SUPER COOL.
This next photo set was also fascinating. The description of this one was really interesting (I took a photo of the description, first photo below); I had read about these “public shamings”, but actually seeing the photograph and following Dazibao was just so eye-opening. Read the photo to get the big idea.
Below: again with the pseudo-pinyin, but the interesting thing in this poster is China supporting (gasp!) minorities?!?! (as shown by the image). The title of this poster was “Support Americans Who Support Ending the War in Vietnam”… super interesting that China supported our protests when they would never really protest themselves.
This next one I thought was fascinating! Please notice the top photo (which represents the first version of the photo). In the group on the left, there is a man in dark blue all the way to the right in the top photo. Please notice bottom photo (third version of the photo). Aforementioned man is GONE. If that’s not a “1984”-look-alike then I don’t know what is…. and I’d hate to know what that man did and what happened to that man…. and also to several of the other people pictured and then suddenly not pictured (there are about 3 if I’m looking at it correctly)….
Again with my nerd-like obsession with languages here, you can see the pinyin. The REALLY EXCITING THING about this poster is that it uses both traditional AND simplified characters. It says, “我们已经超过英国”, which means “we have already surpassed England (in terms of their wheat production). However, if you notice, the photo does not use “们” (which pluralizes “我”, which means I, so 我+们 = we). Instead of “们”, it uses “們” which is the traditional form of “们”. Yet everything else is in simplified characters. Just goes to show that during this time, language reform was also at play and some things, including the “们”, hadn’t quite been changed yet….
And finally, below is a photo of two postcards I bought. The first one represents the taking down of the ” 四人幫”, or the “Gang of Four”, four people, including Mao Zedong’s wife, who were blamed for the horrible outcome of the Cultural Revolution. This is a really interesting topic in and of itself, so please look at the wikipedia articles here: Gang of Four, and Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing if you want to know more info. Seriously consider skimming some because any explanation I even try to offer will not do it justice!
The bottom photo shows a parade marching down the street, which is actually Shanghai’s Bund. It shows the celebration of the liberation of Shanghai – or the central government taking Shanghai back into its jurisdiction, which had previously been under Japanese control (this is late 1940s ish). Find more here! I also just thought that the view of Shanghai bund some 70+ years ago is super interesting, even though it is artfully represented.
So I may not have provided the best explanations for exactly WHY I thought all of these posters were so interesting, but I hope I helped (and gave you a few good Wikipedia articles to read 😉 ). Overall, my trip here was fascinating, and I was really glad that I had so much background knowledge on the Cultural Revolution so that I could better contextualize the posters and better understand what exactly was going on in China at that time.
I might try to squeeze in one more update later today, but the likelihood of that is slim, so if I don’t get a chance, just so you all know I’m leaving today at 4pm to go on our group travel tour to Qinghai, China! Photos below:
(Qinghai is outlined in red, you can see where it is related to the rest of China)
And just a few photos to tease you with where we may or may not be going….
Basically, I really can’t wait to get out of this polluted city and get into this nature! Adventure here we come!!!
I’m not taking my computer with me, so it’ll be about a week until you hear from me again… and I’m sure there will be lots of stories to tell 🙂