These Vintage Propaganda Posters Show A Past China Wants To Ignore

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the de facto beginning of China’s Cultural Revolution, a 10-year social movement in which the communist country plunged into turmoil and internal strife.

On May 16, 1966, the country’s leadership, under Chairman Mao Zedong, issued an edict calling on citizens to purge people considered to be “members of the bourgeoisie threatening to seize political power from the proletariat,” as Mao’s popularity waned amid an economic and industrial crisis.

Under the central leadership’s encouragement, students revolted against teachers and peasants rose up against local leaders. Young supporters around the country formed paramilitary groups, called the Red Guards, and attempted to destroy remnants of the country’s traditional heritage by smashing up cultural relics and persecuting “counter-revolutionaries” such as intellectuals and politicians.

Over 1.7 million people died as a result of the Cultural Revolution, according to the country’s official figures.

Corbis Historical/Getty Images


figcaption class=”image__caption” js-image-caption”> This poster of Mao includesthe words, “The journey in the sea depends on the helmsman: To resist imperialist aggressions we must establish a mighty navy.”

The country is not proud of this part of its history. In 1981, five years after Mao’s death, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China adopted a resolution dubbing the revolution a “catastrophe” that brought about “grave disorder, damage and retrogression” to the country.

On Monday, China remained virtually silent on discussions of the event.

The government did not hold any official events to commemorate the anniversary. Not a single state-run media outlet ran major stories on the topic. Screenshots of China’s largest newspapers had other news items, like the South China Sea disputes, gracing the front pages instead. 

Discussion of the Cultural Revolution did not appear to be censored on social media, a practice the country has carried out with sensitive topics in the past, although comments about the event on popular microblogging platform Weibo seemed to be kept to a minimum.

But these vintage posters, issued during the Cultural Revolution, show a time in China’s past when the state saw the movement and its aims much differently. In many state-issued posters, peasants and soldiers are glorified as the nation’s heroes to encourage industrial production and conscription into the army. Many characters are also depicted holding a Little Red Book filled with Mao’s quotes.

Take a look at some of these posters below:

  • Corbis Historical/Getty Images

    “Chinese people have ambition,” the caption reads.
  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images

    In this woodcut, titled “Industrial Might,” one of the two workers is raising the Little Red Book that contains Mao Zedong’s quotes. Many people carried the Little Red Book around to avoid punishment.
  • Corbis Historical/Getty Images

    This poster shows peasants and workers cheering, with the caption, “Enthusiastically celebrating the successful opening of the Chinese trade union’s ninth national congress.”
  • Corbis Historical/Getty Images

    A peasant and a People’s Liberation Army officer feature in this poster, named “Return to the People’s Liberation Army, raisethe four good sports to higher levels.”
  • UniversalImagesGroup via Getty Images

    A propaganda poster depicts Mao walking with peasants in the countryside. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao encouraged educated youths to go to rural areas to be “re-educated” by peasants.
  • Heritage Images via Getty Images

    A poster, captioned “Greet The ’70s With New Victories Of Revolution And Production,” captures Chinese workers holding their tools in one hand and Little Red Books in the other.
  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images

    A man is holding the Little Red Book in this woodcut titled “Shout the Words of Mao.”
  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images

    This woodcut, titled “Travel with the Words of Mao,” shows a band of travelers equipped with the Little Red Book and a documenttitled “Mao’s Latest Directives.”
  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images

    This woodcut is titled “Words of Mao Like the Power of the Sun.”
  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images

    Peasants and soldiers are featured in this woodcut, named “So Say Mao.”
  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images


    div class=”listicle__slide-caption” js-image-caption”>Peasants and troops carry Little Red Books and a red flag with the words, “Hold the great banner of unity and achieve even greater success,” printed on it. The woodcut is titled “All People Follow the Words of Mao.”

  • Buyenlarge via Getty Images

    A poster, titled “Mao’s Words Bring Joy,” features peasants holding a sign reading “Mao’s Quotations: Capture revolutionaries, promote production, promote work, promote strategy.”
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