The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center features a private collection of about 300 brightly colored, Mao-era propaganda posters stretching from the founding of Communist China in 1949 to 1990, which includes some of China’s darkest political days. The museum, which has been open for a number of years but finally received an official government license last spring, is a labor of love. Its owner, Yang Peiming, began buying up the posters in the mid-1990s as they were being thrown away en masse.
“The propaganda poster is very, very unique,” says Yang. “They describe the history with so many detailed pictures. This is interesting, because it is art plus politics.”
Many posters feature heroic, cartoonlike figures with political slogans to rally the masses. The images are triumphant, even if the events they depict were often disasters.
Take a poster from 1958 showing a Chinese man on horseback racing past a portly British soldier in a pith helmet on the back of an ox. One of the poster’s slogans says China’s economy will surpass Great Britain’s in 15 years. The poster was a rallying cry for Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which forcibly collectivized agriculture.
It was a catastrophe that that Yang calls “crazy.”