Images of Mao and the Cultural Revolution

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The 1960s: Mixed Messages Abound

The 1960s were calamitous years for China. Mao Zedong’s experiments with mass industrialization during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) led to famine and widespread starvation and death. The zealotry of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969) led to the formation of the Red Guard. This paramilitary social movement tasked millions of young people with ridding China of the “Four Olds” – old customs, old habits, old ideas, and old culture.

Within the visual realm, mixed messages were abundant. While chaos and famine were the reality, printing presses churned out images such titled, “We are Mao Zedong’s Little Red Soldiers” and “Socialism is fine!” Millions of images of Mao Zedong were circulated, showing him as poet, calligrapher, statesman, and soldier. At the same time, the public voiced criticism of authority figures with “big character posters,” diatribes handwritten on newsprint and hung in public spaces.

MaoEngravingYoung Mao Zedong Doing Calligraphy
Engraving, 1950s
P1030207National Day Celebration at Tian’anmen Square
Offset print
ConserveGrain_1stonleftBackWall.jpg“A Letter to the Party”
Offset Print, April 1959
Mao Zedong
P1030204“Wishing Chairman Mao Long Life without End”
Liu Wenxi, 1959
P1030203“Taking the Market to the People”
Offset print, republished 1986
WoodblockPrintChairmanMaoZedongChairman Mao in military attire
Woodblock print, 1966-69
Circular_Announcing_Cultural_Revolution“Central Committee Document,
May 16th Directive”
MaoWritingHisBigCharacterPoster“Bombard the Headquarters!
My Big Character Poster”

Offset print, 1966
Big_Character_PosterBig Character Poster
“Liu Shaoqi Deserves Ten Thousand Deaths for Desecration of Traditional Chinese Medicine”
Handwritten text on newsprint 
2012 reproduction of 1966 text
1966_Red_Guard_Newspaper“Celebrate the 18th Anniversary of the
People’s Republic of China”
Lu Xun Pictorial, October 1st, 1967
Let's_Mobilize“Let’s Mobilize!”
Offset print, 1968
People_of_the_World_Unite_under_Red_Sun_Mao“Long Live Chairman Mao, the red sun in the hearts of revolutionary people worldwide”
Offset print, 1969
P1030189“There’s a Sea-Change in the World”
Offset print, 1967
P1030188“Our production brigade
has added another granary”
Offset print, 1971 
P1030187Chairman Mao with his close comrades-in-arms Zhou Enlai and Lin Biao
Offset print, 1968
ChaingRubber ink stamps in
the shape of China’s Leaders
Molded plastic, 2010
DengRubber ink stamps in
the shape of China’s Leaders
Molded plastic, 2010
MaoRubber ink stamps in
the shape of China’s Leaders
Molded plastic, 2010