Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Cultural Revolution: State Graphics in China in the 1960s and 1970s (II)

(from 11th Jul until 20th Nov 2011)

Explore the bold and colourful imagery found on posters and other items from this revolutionary period.

Detail of Figures and flags in front of Great Hall of the People, China, 1976 (Museum No: EA2006.263

Poster images

Images of the leader

Mao’s assertion of power was a key element in the instigation of the Cultural Revolution. His image and imprint were everywhere, and it has been estimated that 10.8 billion Mao texts and images were printed by the state between 1966 and 1976.

His calligraphy provided the masthead for the state newspaper People’s Daily and for the names of many institutions. His thoughts and sayings were compiled in Quotations of Chairman Mao, first published in January 1964. With an estimated official printing of more than one billion between 1966 and 1969, this was eventually reprinted 500 times in approximately 50 languages, and became known in English as ‘The Little Red Book’.

Visual images of Mao were ubiquitous, found on badges and on currency, and in larger form on brightly coloured posters of the type displayed in this exhibition. Some reproduce ink paintings, others were designed as poster images. Mao is shown principally in two ways. He stands alone in sombre suit or army uniform in a rolling landscape that represents the extent of the nation, or he is depicted in conversation with people representing different categories of the population: worker peasant soldier groups, national minorities, model revolutionaries, successful industrial or agricultural brigades.

The East is Red (EA2006.294) The East is Red (EA2006.294)    Chairman Mao talking to a group of workers (EA2006.295) Chairman Mao talking to a group of workers (EA2006.295)
Presenting Fine Paintings to Chairman Mao (EA2006.235) Presenting Fine Paintings to Chairman Mao (EA2006.235)    Chairman Mao talking to farmers in a spring landscape (EA2006.298) Chairman Mao talking to farmers in a spring landscape (EA2006.298)

Political messages

Posters combining text and images to promote political messages were a key tool of Cultural Revolution propaganda. Many bear titles that quote Chairman Mao directly, others incorporate slogans within pictures that include banners held aloft amongst revolutionary crowds.

The compositions were often based on Soviet socialist heroic models, with strong central figure groupings. The drawing of the figures combined a robust version of traditional ink painting with Soviet styles adopted in the 1950s. The predominant colour was red, cool colours were avoided, and where Mao was depicted, there was always a glow of reflected light. Figures around him were unfailingly eager and smiling.

Posters were often produced in conjunction with particular campaigns, such as the 'Criticise Lin Biao, criticise Confucius' campaign of 1973-4, or to mark international days of celebration. Print runs were commonly in tens or hundreds of thousands, and distribution was through the state bookseller Xinhua Shudian (New China Bookstore). New designs appeared frequently, and the posters were displayed in public buildings and in homes. Some are attributed to particular artists and many are collaborative, or anonymous.

Preparing for the enemy (EA2006.247) Preparing for the enemy (EA2006.247)   Unite for Greater Victory! (EA2006.269) Unite for Greater Victory! (EA2006.269)   Characters from the revolutionary operas (EA2006.261) Characters from the revolutionary operas (EA2006.261)
The Great Historical Documents (EA2006.263) The Great Historical Documents (EA2006.263)   Workers of the World, Unite! (EA2006.268) Workers of the World, Unite! (EA2006.268)

Revolutionary landscapes

Between 1972 and 1976 the national committee for art organised a series of national art exhibitions. The second exhibition, in 1973, included a large section devoted to guohua(literally ‘national painting’). The ink paintings used a traditional medium - brush and ink on paper - but revived landscape styles that had been denounced as reactionary for much of the 1950s and throughout the earlier years of the Cultural Revolution. As in the early 1960s, many of the landscapes incorporated elements representing socialism, such as depictions of modern industry. Such indications of revolution are, however, subsumed into compositions that are overwhelmingly traditional in composition and technique.

Miyun Reservoir (EA2006.219) Miyun Reservoir (EA2006.219)   On the Banks of the Yangzi River (EA2006.218) On the Banks of the Yangzi River (EA2006.218)   Turning a Deep Chasm into a Thoroughfare (EA2006.202) Turning a Deep Chasm into a Thoroughfare (EA2006.202)

Objects from past exhibitions may have now returned to our stores or a lender. Click into an individual object record to confirm whether or not an object is currently on display. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis, so please contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular Eastern Art object.

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