Seeing red: The propaganda art of China’s Cultural Revolution
12 February 2019
During China’s Cultural Revolution traditional artists were condemned as counter-revolutionaries and imprisoned. In their place the government attempted to create a new visual culture: one that celebrated workers, soldiers, industrial progress and Chairman Mao.
In 1966 Mao Zedong, the Communist leader of China, started a political campaign that became known as the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Mao called on China's youth to help him purge capitalist influences and bourgeois thinking in government, teaching, the media and arts, and to reinvigorate the revolutionary spirit.
Calling themselves The Red Guards, radical students set out to destroy the "four olds": old ideas, customs, habits and culture. They spearheaded the interrogation, humiliation and beatings of teachers and intellectuals, and travelled the country destroying cultural heritage.
During the Cultural Revolution traditional artists were condemned as counter-revolutionaries and their work destroyed. A new style of art was required that supported the Maoist line and served the worker, peasant and soldier.
These images permeated all areas of everyday life and were reproduced on all manner of objects including matchboxes, which before had usually shown images from Chinese folklore.
A new travelling exhibition organised by The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford explores the art made during the tumultuous decade, and includes propaganda posters, revolutionary landscapes, papercuts and household objects.
The exhibition Cultural Revolution is at William Morris Gallery, 23 February-27 May 2019. All images © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford