Prove your humanity

Red Collectors, the connoisseur collective with a penchant for Chinese propaganda posters. As the posters were being thrown away en masse in the mid-1990s, this particular visual relic is a highly unique collectible, telling tales of Chinese history through cartoon-esque drawings and slogans.

“Growing up strong and sturdy!” Detail of a mid-1980s poster promoting the all-round advancement of Chinese children. Image: the Jasmine Sour Collection

Temper spotted from afar a blistering balefire, burgeoning with old-school yet ever-contemporary China cool: Propaganda. Posters.

But before we continue, we must give props. The informations and illustrations in this short feature come courtesy of Middle Kingdom specialist Jasmine Sour, a red poster collector with more than 30 years of traveling, studying and working in China under her belt.

For more intel on Sour’s publications, we kindly refer you to her Instagram and Facebook. Right, fire away, we say!


On an Unsolicited Educational Note
Though often associated with the former Soviet Union or China, the U.S. –amongst others– also issued propaganda posters in the pre-Instagram days of yore. In 1942, for example, the Office of War Information (OWI) was created to both craft and disseminate the government’s message. This propaganda campaign included specific goals and strategies.

Artists, filmmakers, and intellectuals were recruited to take the government’s agenda (objectives) and turn it into a campaign. This included posters found across America-from railway stations to post offices, from schools to apartment buildings.  Their most common themes of the poster boys an gals were the consequences of careless talk, conservation, civil defense, war bonds, victory gardens, “women power,” and anti-German and Japanese scenarios. It was imperative to have the American people behind the war effort.

The most common poster types used were fear, the bandwagon, name-calling, euphemism, glittering generalities, transfer, and the testimonial. The posters pulled at emotions-both positive and negative. They used words as “ammunition” or slogans like “loose lips might sink ships.”

Messages made the war personal–you can make a difference, the soldiers are counting on you. Some posters also tapped into people’s patriotic spirit–do this and be a good American. They were bright and happy, colorful and positive. Other posters showed the dark side of war. They were filled with shocking images of what had happened to other countries and what could still happen in America if everyone did not do their part. FYI, circling back to the 21st Century, COVID-19 also generated a “Fight the Pandemic” poster or two–worldwide.

Pandas and Pan Asian Games

Sour: Over the course of the 30 years I have spent traveling, working and studying in China, I have used Foreign Exchange Currency, RMB, Alipay and WeChat to shop at Friendship Stores, the Silk Market — when it was still a street market — and Taobao.

I biked across Beijing when there were 8 million bicycles and less than 50k privately owned cars.

I have hailed 面包车 (vans), taxis and didis (滴滴打车| Tencent’s mobile transportation platform). I have surfed the web at 网吧 (Internet bars), from my mobile and beyond the Great Firewall. But some things never really change…

Don’t Jinbao (L, 2019 CIIE panda mascot) and Panpan (R, 1990 Beijing Pan Asian Games panda mascot) look like they could be long lost twin brothers?

Of course neither one can hold a candle against Bing Dwen Dwen, the roly-poly Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 panda mascot that sparked a consumer craze nationwide; but that’s another story.


Hostess of the Mostess

Details of an early 1990s poster show a hostess posing in front of a Chinese carrier (undefined airline).

Civil aviation in China took off as early as 1949 and was initially under direct People’s Liberation Army supervision.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China operated its own airline right up to 1988 when three “commercial” airlines were born: Air China (HQ: Beijing), China Eastern Airlines (HQ: Shanghai), and China Southern Airlines (HQ: Guangzhou).

The Chinese State holds a majority stake in all three airlines.


Who’s The Pretty Trendy Kitty?

Detail of a 1990 poster featuring the local beauty sporting a “trendy” swimsuit.

By the 1980s, the nation’s style-scape had been dominated by unisex Mao getups for roughly three decades. After Deng Xiaoping in 1982 opened China’s doors to the West, however, people collectively decided to get changed.

The 1980s and early 1990s saw the gradual re-introduction of Western-style fashions in China.


At Your Service!

Details of a 1980s health prevention propaganda poster.

Family doctors or GPs remain a rather rare find in China where most people will simply go to the nearest hospital to receive any type of treatment. Hospitals are government-owned and generally over-crowded.

One doctor has less than a minute or two to dedicate to each patient they see.

While the occurrence of strokes has been on the decline across Europe and the U.S. in recent years, it is increasing dramatically in China.

China’s 3 million doctors have unequal training and access to medical information depending on whether they are based in first-, second-, or third-tier cities or counties.

Without proper training and sufficient time and resources, many patients are ill-diagnosed. Thus increasing public health risks.

Details of a late 1980s poster showcasing a People’s Liberation Army soldier safeguarding peace, order, and harmony on Nanjing Road.

Nanjing Road is one of Shanghai’s busiest pedestrian streets.

Back in the 1930s, the infamous Great World building (as seen behind the soldier) was the embodiment of entertainment and vice.

Detail of a post-1989 poster featuring three of the five armed forces within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The PLA is the armed force of both the People’s Republic of China as well as the Communist Party of China. It was founded on August 1, 1927.

It consists of five forces: ground, air, navy, rocket, and strategic support.

It is the world’s largest armed force comprised of more than 2 million people (a mere 0.2 percent of China’s entire population).

The PLA is rapidly modernizing. China has the second-largest defense budget in the world — after that of the U.S. During the Two Sessions 2022, basically the annual gathering of the nation’s parliamentary body, it announced it would be significantly expanding its resources in the leadup to its 100th anniversary come 2027.


Thy Body is Thy Temple

Ping-pong diplomacy. The year 2017 marked President Trump’s first official visit to the Middle Kingdom and, also, the 45th anniversary of ping-pong diplomacy.

Ping-pong diplomacy refers to the exchange of ping-pong players between the U.S. and China in the early 1970s. In the eye of the Cold War storm, this diplomatic move paved the way for President Nixon’s first visit to China in 1972.

China at the time was still considered an aggressor nation by the U.S. and both countries had had neither economic nor diplomatic relations for some 20 years.

Ping-pong provided an opportunity for U.S. and Chinese players to meet up during international competitions in the early 1970s.

Mao Zedong in 1971 allowed nine American ping-pong players to enter the PRC. Soon after, Nixon visited. This visit is still considered the one event that formally normalized relations between both countries.


My Corona!

Chinese online humor is often used to transmit meaningful and sensitive information. Chinese netizens have developed a network of common codes that seek to outsmart sophisticated regulatory systems.

From early 2019 onwards, Chinese netizens have twisted and adapted 1960s propaganda poster slogans to befit contemporary topics of controversy as they arise across mainland China.

The above images derive from 1960s official propaganda slogans and iconography to depict situations linked to the late January 2020 COVID-19 outbreak — as it played out across mainland China in the weeks and months after.

Talk about poster boys. And girls.















FEATURED IMAGE: “Silver ping-pong ball carries friendship.” (Ping-Pong Diplomacy) 1972 Image: Courtesy of the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center
Elsbeth van Paridon
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