Besides reproducing the stunning, otherworldly beauty of Michael Wolf's massive Chinese propaganda poster collection so brightly it practically gives you a suntan, his book gives you a sense of how the illiterate masses used these images instead of newspapers and TV to get the news and define themselves. In the introduction, the brilliant Anchee Min
explains how the 1974 poster of a pigtailed girl heroically posed amid martyrs made Min change her own look, which got her recruited by Madame Mao to star in a propaganda film. Soon Min appeared in a poster--or rather, Min transformed, muscularized, rendered in shining primary colors. As you page through the hundreds of posters, you see how nimbly the artists handle symbolism and composition, favoring right angles (Mao rising rocketlike from the horizon of the marching populace) and diagonals (citizens' rifles form an X pattern echoed in the next panel by the US jets they've downed, as Mao crows, "The atom bomb is a paper tiger the US reactionary uses to scare people! It looks terrible, but in fact, it isn't."). Dong Cunrui, who used his body as a post supporting explosives to blow up a bridge, is a common vertical image, balanced by the dramatic diagonal pose (so like Captain America) of Huang Ji-guang, who blocked US machine guns with his body in Korea. Whenever a poster shows a young guy or girl at an angle, battling waves or giving a running dog a noogie, the image quotes Ji-guang, the visual equivalent of a rap sample of an old-school riff. This book should've been arranged chronologically; instead, it's whimsically structured to correspond with the chapters of Mao's Red Book. Even so, you can't miss the amazing shift that came around 1980: unisex suits give way to flashy Western clothes, prim pigtails to windblown coifs, tanks to TV sets and snazzy fridges, socialist realism to Norman Rockwell and Seattle World's Fair futurism. --Tim Appelo
From the Publisher
The Communist superhero
With his smooth, warm, red face which radiated light in all directions, Chairman Mao Zedong was a fixture in Chinese propaganda posters produced between the birth of the Peoples Republic in 1949 and the early 1980s.
These infamous posters were, in turn, central fixtures in Chinese homes, railway stations, schools, journals, magazines, and just about anywhere else where people were likely to see them. Chairman Mao, portrayed as a stoic superhero (a.k.a. the Great Teacher, the Great Leader, the Great Helmsman, the Supreme Commander), appeared in all kinds of situations (inspecting factories, smoking a cigarette with peasant workers, standing by the Yangzi River in a bathrobe, presiding over the bow of a ship, or floating over a sea of red flags), flanked by strong, healthy, ageless men and "masculinized" women and children wearing baggy, sexless, drab clothing.
The goal of each poster was to show the Chinese people what sort of behavior was considered morally correct and how great the future of Communist China would be if everyone followed the same path toward utopia by uniting together. Combining fact and fiction in a way typical of propaganda art, these posters exuded positive vibes and seemed to suggest that Mao was an omnipresent force that would accompany China to happiness and greatness.
This book brings together a selection of colorful propaganda artworks and cultural artifacts from photographer Michael Wolfs vast collection of Chinese propaganda posters, many of which are now extremely rare.