Reading from China? This travel report contains a YouTube video, which can only be viewed with a VPN!
March 2019. I’ve always been fascinated by the manipulative powers of propaganda art. From Uncle Sam and The Soviets to The Nazis and The Vietnamese, it just blows my mind to think how a single image with a catchy slogan could hold such huge influence over millions of people. So when I heard about a Chinese propaganda art exhibition tucked away in a hidden building away from Shanghai’s teeming masses, I knew I had to do whatever it took to seek the place out.
Home to over six thousand antique posters, Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre houses the biggest collection of Chinese propaganda posters in the world. Perhaps even more impressive is that it’s largely down to one man: an avid poster collector by the name of Yang Pei Ming. I saw him as soon as I entered the museum. “Welcome… something, something” he mumbled, before taking my entrance fee and shuffling off to a side office.
March 2019. Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre is divided into three sections. The first part focuses on the years immediately after the founding of The People’s Republic of China. During this time Chairman Mao called upon the nation’s leading artists to produce works that trumpeted the country’s great transformation!
March 2019. The second area hones in on the 1950s and the aspirational images to reflect China’s so-called Great Leap Forward. I couldn’t help but be drawn to the anti US posters that depicted American soldiers as shrinking, sallow-skinned monsters. In the above poster from 1950, titled Children of New China, two US soldiers are driven cowering into the sea by gun-wielding Chinese infants.
March 2019. Those fascinated by the power and influence of Chairman Mao will be pleased to see the big cheese featured in plenty of posters, woodcuttings and paper cutouts.
A particularly interesting corner displays what is at first glance two identical Chairman Mao posters. The bottom image was created in 1968 by the artist Chen Jiang, who was at the time the director for Shanghai People’s Arts Publishing House Revolutionary Committee. But when Mao’s wife Jiang Qing saw the finished product she demanded he repaint the whole thing, making the image of Mao larger and the cheering, flag-waving people smaller. This, she surmised, would consolidate the idea of her husband’s unquestionable authority. And so the top image is the one that was officially published.
March 2019. The third part of the museum deals with The Cultural Revolution and the years thereafter. The museum even has a bunch of original Cultural Revolution schoolbooks in which Mao, disillusioned at the direction the country is heading in, urges the country’s youth to mobilize and take current party leaders to task for their embrace of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit. Scary stuff.
March 2019. Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre also has a cool shop where you can buy reproduction prints and postcards of pretty much everything you’ve seen in the museum.
March 2019. Finding the museum can be a bit tricky. It’s located in a residential complex called President Mansion at 868 Huashan Lu. Duck inside and more often than not the security guard will hand you a museum leaflet with a little map.
If he’s not there just follow the block numbers around to building 4 which has a sign outside. Entrance to the museum is 25RMB (£2.80/€3.30/$3.70). They’re open daily (closed on Mondays) from 10:00-1700
For more on the powers of propaganda art, check out my report from Old Propaganda Posters & Paintings in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Like this? Check out more articles from my wanderings around Shanghai.
Wanna delve further afield? You’ve come to the right place, as I’ve written hundreds of reports from all over China.
For a more detailed and personalized slant, you might want to take a look at my short story series Challenged in China.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.