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Chinese Propaganda Posters

February 22, 2009
This book is super fascinating. For $15, you should own it.

Communist propaganda posters which hung in millions of homes and storefronts across the nation reinforced the image of an omnipresent Chairman Mao.

Today I picked up a book of collected Chinese propaganda posters. The politics, the history, and oh my God, the art; These pictures are as glorious as they are twisted. While tens of millions of Chinese were being executed, starved to death and worked to the bone, these colorful posters illustrated the sunshining and bountiful future communism promised.

The rich compositions and inspirational messages of these posters are insidiously seductive. In fact, many Chinese (the youth especially) were so fond of these images, they would buy them and hang them in their homes. They’re almost like fantasy vacation posters. “Come to China, where everyone is happy and the flowers are always abloom!”

In my mind, I have always likened these propaganda posters to the crazy illustrations inside of religious pamphlets like Awake! which for whatever reason, like to show children and wild animals hanging out in fields of wheat with rainbows and mountains behind them. Why are the kids shown playing next man-eating lions? I think it has to do with “God’s creatures” living in harmony on “God’s green earth.” And that’s not too far from “China’s people” living in harmony on “Mao’s red land,” right?

Anyway, the book is very light on literature and super heavy on images (it’s Taschen) but it’s simply amazing. The quotes and 3 essays included contextualize these posters from personal, cultural and historical points of view. Most posters include text transcriptions, production dates and artists’ names. There is also a super informative time line that starts with 1900’s Boxer Rebellion and goes all the way up to last summer’s Olympic games in Bejing.

What a popular guy.

What a popular guy.

If you want more background info, or just want to look at more pretty posters, here’s a link to Stefan Landsberger’s poster site. (Stefan is a contributing writer to this book.) Perhaps after reading about how completely bonkers it’s been over there for the past 100 years, you’ll begin to understand the historial and iconographic power of these posters, not only as it relates to China, but to our own modern societies as well.

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