Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Transporting back in time...

I have wanted to go to the Propaganda Center from the moment I flipped through my Shanghai tourist guide. My parents have grown up through the Cultural Revolution and I wanted the opportunity to visit the Center to see posters of what my parents saw in their everyday life. When I saw the Center as a field trip in the syllabus of this course I could hardly contain my excitement. As I walked into the Center I was amazed at all the pieces around me; how one person accumulated such an amazing collection astounded me, especially after we learned that Deng Xiao Peng ordered all the posters to be sent to the recycling factory in 1979. The yellowing posters with their bold red and black Chinese characters, surrounded by faces of proud Chinese wearing patriotic green brought me back to a time era that I have always been curious about. It was interesting how the posters changed with the evolution of time, with the cigarette girl ads in the 1920s-30s to the posters depicting Americans as wolves, to the camaraderie between the North Koreans and Chinese, and the Chinese views towards both the Cold War and Vietnam War.

The pieces however, which struck me the most were the “Dazibao,” or handwritten posters speaking out or criticizing someone according to Mao’s ideals. The description wrote about the dazibao's ability for “individual’s judgment on paper [to] turn millions of people as the attacking targets.” These pieces of scrap paper with gigantic Chinese characters written on them, denounced friends, teachers, and even family members. It was that moment that I really wished I was fluent in reading Chinese. I wanted to read about how much influence Mao’s principles had over the Chinese people. The most amazing piece however was the double written dazibao that the gallery owner showed us. Someone with a fierce amount of determination and courage risked his or her life to respond to the dazibao. I couldn’t imagine living in a time where speaking up for yourself or someone you cared about was something that you had to be scared to do.

Not all dazibaos were about defaming people however. Rather, some of them were opinions of people simply trying to be heard. Wei Jingsheng’s dazibao calling for democracy is one such example. His poster sparked a grand controversy. Hearing this makes me appreciate the free speech American citizens are all granted.

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