Tuesday, March 04, 2008

a review on the visit of Propaganda Poster Art Center

Living in Shanghai for so many years since I was born, I have only been to big museums and galleries such as Shanghai Museum where China’s long history is well represented by the collection of jade, calligraphy, paintings and other artifacts, I have never thought of visiting some smaller museums such as the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center, in fact, I have not even heard that place before the visit last Thursday.
The art center is located in a basement of a quiet apartment complex on Huashan Road. There was no sign of the exhibition hall and we had to go downstairs, so it looked a little bit mysterious. At the entrance, a big portrait of Chairman Mao came into eye. It seemed to bring me back to the period from 1949 to 1976, when Mao ruled over China.
To Mao the revolution had to be a permanent process, constantly kept alive through unending class struggle. Conceived of ' a revolution to touch people's souls, the aim of the Cultural Revolution was to replace the old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits with the new art and literature in line with Communist ideology. Anything that was suspected of being feudal of bourgeois should be destroyed.
he collection of propaganda posters here represented the history, according to Mr. Yang, the director of the art center, these posters were preserved for the young people in the future. To us Chinese students, the posters not only showed the painting styles of the past decades, but also provided an opportunity to get back to the past. we were recalled of many historic events such as the foundation of the People's Republic of China and the Cultural Revolution. The propaganda once played a major supporting role in many campaigns that were designed to mobilize the people, and it has been the vehicle through which art conveyed model behavior.

I was most impressed by the following two posters:

This poster showed the movement of “criticizing Lin and Confucius” launched in 1947. Early in 1973, Mao indicated that the criticism of Lin Biao and his followers should be combined with a thorough criticism of Confucius. Confucius' attempt to roll back the tide of history by upholding the values of the Slave Society of Western Zhou was said to potentially undermine the legacy of the Cultural Revolution. From this poster we can see, a soldier, a farmer and a worker, representing the three major classes at that time were striving together to clear the rubbish in the left corner, Lin and Confucius, depicted as rubbish only occupied a very small proportion of the whole picture. The bright images of the three guys and the darkness in a small corner form a ridiculous contrast. According to Mr. Yang, at that period, the traditional Chinese philosophy and morality was abused, the sky and earth turned upside down. It was a shame in the Chinese history for the people to follow Mao blindly. Today we still enjoy the cultural and spiritual legacy left by the Confucius thousands of years ago, meanwhile the Confucius' great thought even has a huge impact on foreign countries.

The characters in the following poster can be translated into “the invincible Mao's thought illuminated the stage of the revolutionary art”. JiangQing, who dominated China's culture and arts during the Cultural Revolution, stood in the center of the picture, and behind her was Mao's image which looked like a red sun. The background is the eight “Model Opera” designated by Jiang. Last semester, I happened to watch some excerpts of the eight “Model Operas” which were outdated and even ridiculous from the perspective of the contemporary generation, once dominated the cultural area in China. The main characters are either heroes or heroines who have the same quality such as being dedicated, brave, intelligent and most important, being loyal to the Communist Party of China. I bet that nowadays few Chinese students are willing to watch the so called” Model Opera” which were performed frequently during that time. But even till now, the generation of our parents is still able to sing the operas, because when they were in middle school, that was the mandatory education.
The Cultural Revolution seemed to be a nightmare, but now China has already taken the modern way of industrialization, we are lucky enough to live in a peaceful and harmony world, no longer is China in a period when individuality was suppressed. However, we shall never forget the past, just as the saying goes, Forgetting the past means rebel.
From this perspective, the visit to Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center is worthwhile. It is not only a destination of foreign visitors, but also of our Chinese contemporary students.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I'm interested in the two posters you picked, I'm not sure I would have picked the same ones. In any case I may have to try to find some of this "Model Opera", it sounds entertaining to say the least :)