“This collection of posters serves as a valuable historical document providing a remarkable glimpse into a critical period in the history of twentieth-century China.
As Winston S. Churchill famously said, “The Empire of the future will be the empire of the mind.” In the days before CNN and Fox News, a still image truly was worth a thousand words and these posters were how Mao and his group informed and restored the collective mind of the Chinese people. It was a time of a heroic saga of countless victories over momentous struggle. Even so, behind the cheerful faces beaming from the posters, one can sense the true-life anxieties and hardships of the people they are purported to represent. Indeed, each poster is both a work of art and an insight into the events of those times.
These Chinese propaganda posters are most rich in content and style. The early posters had a surreal cartoon-like style reminiscent of European early forays into the new medium of large-scale industrial print propaganda. As the Korean war drew to a close you can see the emergence of more socialist-realism influences with the idealized and heroic worker in their utopian communities. An interesting side note was the influence of the 1930s Shanghai calendar girl posters on some of these 1950s pieces. Big Leap Forward and Cold War posters, of the later 1950s and early 1960s, saw the creation of quite a few interesting folk art paintings. The change to the red-art style, of the Cultural Revolution and the violent and militaristic themes, represents a sudden shift that reveals the mood of the time. There is great power in the red and black woodcut style posters made by the art school student rebellion groups.
Posters were designed to not only meet the demand of the government but to also be embraced by the masses. In striving to achieve these works, many artists reached deep inside themselves, producing extraordinary poster designs perfectly capturing the indomitable nature of the human spirit, the transformational power of unbridled industriousness, and the soaring spirit of the people’s optimism. Even considered among works of fine art a large number of these posters will prove of exceptional quality and forever hold significance in the history of Chinese art.
Today China’s economic path to prosperity is well defined. With a shift toward a more modern and forward-thinking society it would be a mistake to forget the events of our recent history and therefore our art center is very proud to be the only place in China to offer the most comprehensive collection of poster art.
Due to political changes in the past years many posters had been destroyed. With more than 5000 pieces produced between 1949 and 1979, this is the greatest collection in the world. It is an art treasure and a part of our culture heritage.
May it inspire creativity and ignite the imagination of the generations to come.
Yang Pei Ming
Director of Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center“
Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.