|Pepsi billboard seen in Guilin.|
I remember being taught some Chinese History at Primary School and hearing about the Great Leap Forward. But to see posters from that time and know that intellectuals were deemed enemies of the state and banished to remote, harsh areas to be forced to do manual labour and that famine was rife, shows that either our teachers were blind to what was really going on, or sanitised the reality to make the classes 'suitable' for Australian children. (No matter that their Chinese counterparts were living in misery unable to share their knowledge and lots of children had no access to education.)
Many posters show happy, smiling agricultural and industrial workers. The wording translates awkwardly, but the meaning is clear "March towards the top science" "More pigs for more fertilizer to obtain high yield grain". Communism was often depicted as like a happy garden with brightly clad, cheerful young women working in farmyards with not a speck of mud or dirt around - sanitised and glorified.
The wording on posters from the time of the Vietnam War makes fascinating reading, such things as:
"Support US black people's justice struggle", "Firmly support US people against US Imperialism invading Vietnam". It was a comparatively stable period politically, and artists were looking outward and able to express themselves more freely.
Given the sometimes acrimonious relationship with America, I find the billboard for Pepsi intriguing. The combination of a traditional propaganda poster - the strong, proud young people, oozing vitality, looking towards and saluting a glorious future - but clearly and unashamedly promoting an American product.
If you're visiting Shanghai and are interested in how propaganda posters were used during the Cultural Revolution, or if you simply enjoy poster-art, (the Shanghai Girl posters are a wonderful step back in time) do visit The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre. It's time well spent.
Where have you visited that you'd recommend? Why? What did you learn there?