Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Sign in China

Not signs as in OoooooooooooowwwwwwwwwooooOooooooo it's a sign about my destiny, mysterious kind of stuff, but the more mundane (or possibly not) billboard ones.

Pepsi billboard seen in Guilin.
Posters have been invaluable in the relatively recent era of Chinese History. During the time of Mao they were produced in their thousands to inform and mould the minds of the populace. The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre (link) has saved and displays hundreds of posters from that time. The posters provide an idealised account of the era, and gloss over the often dreadful experiences of everyday people.

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?


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. thanks again for highlighting the propaganda that we seem to live with and have done for aeons (well a few years in those times frames!) ...

Going and visiting places in any format .. my experience of South Africa late 70s I really had no idea about apartheid, and I met an intelligent Social Worker with PhDs etc .. who went out in the 90s .. and said the same thing! Until you experience or that dawning comes through we don't know.

I was interested to learn that over 4 million Europeans moved to Argentina in the 100 years 1850 - 1950 .. but even more surprised to learn from a film I saw this week that Americans were encouraged to move to Russia to find work in the 1930s .. The film was "The Way Back" - about 7 men who escaped from a Siberian camp .. and walked south til they got to India .. over the plains and Himalayas .. 3 survived .. very good film.

I visited the British Library last year for a couple of exhibitions and bought their books .. fascinating stuff .. and one had a chapter on wartime adverts ..

Thanks Sue - interesting - cheers Hilary

sue said...

My goodness Hilary, that's amazing. 4 million is a huge number, and Americans being encouraged to move to Russia! that's a well kept secret given the chilly relations not that long ago. I'll look out for the film, it sounds interesting.

Enjoy your weekend.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - some of the emigrants returned to the UK and I guess Europe ... but here's a lot of European settlers in South America ..

The film is probably not on general release .. we saw it via the film society .. it's a long film and I thought I'd be bored, but was surprised when it finished!

Peter Weir - born in Sydney - directed it .. Witness, Dead Poets Society, Green Card and the Truman Show .... and the Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World ..

The E/b Film soc have 'rescued' this film which is not being shown commercially .. perhaps in Australia it will be .. it was made last year .. and is UK/USA/United Arab Emirates production ...

leading actors: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris (the American), Colin Farrell ..

If you can find it in due course .. it's worth a watch for the photography, hardships, knowledge of Siberia and the camps etc ..

There's a book The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz published in 1956. Slavomir's involvement in the actual thing wasn't true .. but Peter Weir felt the story worth telling ...

PS - we have excellent film notes too!

Cheers Hilary

Cheers Hilary

Manzanita said...

Dear Sue, That would be an amazing film to see. Both you and Hilary further my learning. I just recently told my son how fortunate I am to have lived this long and can use the computer to meet all of the wonderful people and share ideas. Yaaay for apple.
Propaganda can really make a firm statement.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue and Manzanita .. many thanks Manzanita for such a lovely comment here addressed to both of us ..

I've been loving reading Sue's posts about her forays into China .. fascinating ..

Cheers Hilary

Spadoman said...

I was here yesterday and your wonderful mpost had me with so much to say. Then, your commenter, Hilary, and her mention of what sounds to be like a fabulous movie about the Europeans that went to South America. All wonderful stuff. I'm still wanting to hear more more more about your travels to China.
As you know, I travel, (In my UTE), but not abroad. It is totally different and I am fascinated by the prospect. So honored that you stop off at my place, every time you do!
Many Italians in South America. I know this because my Grandfather had relatives there. He always wanted to go, but never did. probably couldn't afford it. He came here to work on the railroad in the very early 1900's. He ended up in Chicago working in a brass foundry. His brothers and cousins, also gandy dancers, ended up all across Canada. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if he had stayed in Canada with the rest of his family members.
All thought provoking stuff. Your blog is terrific. Your energy devoted to all your posts ROCKS!


Arlee Bird said...

I've always gotten a kick out of propaganda art--very strange. China seems like a place of absurd contradictions, but the world is kind of weird in general I guess.

I've never been out of North America, which is okay with me. I'd recommend plenty of places in the United States since there is so much diversity and so many interesting places to see.

Tossing It Out

Barb said...

So interesting Sue. I think I mentioned to you that I traveled to China in the mid-80's when it was first opened to travelers. We were actually a Friendship Force group led by a Senator to promote friendship and peace. At that time, there were many posters extolling one child per family. People still lived on the communes, but they were renamed as "villages." We actually stayed with a Chinese family for a couple days - I could speak only a few basic words of Chinese and one of the daughters could speak a smattering of English. We communicated through smiles and gestures. IThe family consisted of an older couple, their grown son and daughter and the son's wife and 9 month old son. The baby was adorable and brought us all together with his antics. I often wonder what he's doing now in 2011!

Barb said...

PS All governments are "guilty" of propaganda - I think it's the way politicians and those in power attempt to influence and controlling people.

sue said...

I've found this the most interesting discussion - there's so much I've learnt. Thankyou all so much for sharing your experiences and insights.

Hilary, we're looking to see where/when the film is available, your notes would be interesting and I suspect provocative. Are you able to share them with me? What an interesting group of backers.

Manzanita, it's always lovely to see you here. Some of my friends refuse to even look in to the world of blogging, and I feel they're missing out on such rich interactions. I'm constantly pleased I made the leap into this medium and have met such interesting and generous people.

Keep walking - I wish I could think of a good winter activity, but find it hard too, even though we have mild seasons in comparison to you. We used to play hide and seek in the house with our dog in winter, it was good exercise for her, and we all loved it!

Spadoman, Hi! The movie Hilary saw sounds interesting doesn't it. There has been so much movement of people around the world - displaced and resettled. Honestly, you'd hope we'd get on better wouldn't you. So many families have been uprooted and broken up, I sometimes wander down the "what if" road ... What if my mother's family hadn't moved here from England? What if my grandfather had stayed in Canada. Of course, I wouldn't be here --- but intriguing all the same.
I'm going to see what on earth gandy dancers are now! Hope that Ute of yours is behaving itself and talking you safely throughout your country. BTW I was in Guilin China last full moon and watched it rise over the karst mountains, it was spectacular. Keep safe.

Lee, propaganda art is so interesting isn't it. China is definitely full of contradictions - I hope to share more of them soon.

Barb, I'm so glad you're back and sharing your experiences. I've written a bit about my first trip (on today's post) which must have been around the same time as you were there. Sadly we were kept on a very tight reign and weren't even really allowed to communicate with locals - the police stepped between us and anyone who tried to talk to us, it was very frustrating, but gave me an insight into the power of the police and the fear people had and can still have of them.
Interesting how we don't call it propaganda when it happens in our own countries. I think often it sneaks under the radar of our complacency.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue and everyone .. re The Long Walk, which became the film The Way Back .. check out Wikipedia .. - it probably says as much as our film notes .. but I'm sure I can send those if you'd like them.

@ Spadoman .. things got a little muddled:

My own post on 'Happy Anniversary ..' 4th August) was on European migrants going to South America to find work in the period 1850s - 1950s .. but specifically in the 1920s .. and the anniversary story I wrote.

The film I went to see was the escape from the Gulag and the walk over the Himalayas to escape - from which we learnt that Americans had been 'encouraged' to go to Russia to find work ...

The film/book and how much encouragement the Americans gave their people to migrate for work - we have to 'envisage' .. desperate times and as Wiki says .. re the book/film not completely accurate ...

The concept is there and the ideas and I'm sure the aspects are accurate .. but exactly - it's not gospel, but an overview and not to be taken completely as read ...

I hope that makes sense .. if you look at the Wiki notes .. they will give you a bit more background.

Cheers Hilary

sue said...

Hilary, thanks for the extra information. I'll have a look at the Wiki notes.

I was intrigued to hear that thousands of Jews settled in Shanghai - I presume during WW2. I haven't had time to do any research to find out what happened to them during Mao's time.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. Shanghai was an incredibly cosmopolitan city back in the early days of trade .. early 1800s - it was high on the social scene ... mainly trade .....

But on that I could be totally wrong - so it'll be interesting to hear what you find out .. I doubt it was WW2 - but I could be wrong?! Cheers Hilary

sue said...

Hilary, it must have been really vibrant with comings and goings from all over the world. You still get the sense of history from that era, the hotel we stayed in had been an original French house and there's still a strong sense of european influence in the part of the city we stayed in.

I got the feeling the people I mentioned were refugees, but I need to check. I don't remember where I read it, but there's still a Jewish cemetry somewhere in the city.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. you're right .. check out Wiki and Shanghai
Russian Jews ...

There will be a lot more to the story too - which you probably saw somewhere in your travels ..

It seems you were able to get a bit of the history despite the minders etc ..

Cheers - Hilary