Chinese Propaganda Poster Project

Strive to Speed UpFrom the 1950 to the 1980s, propaganda posters were an important medium for the communist state to communicate its message to the Chinese people, promising a new and better society that would be achieved with enlightened leadership and concerted effort. The poster designers came from varying backgrounds – academy teachers and students, traditional Chinese painters, folk artists and advertising designers – and were directed by Communist Party officials in studios that produced the desired images quickly and in very large numbers. The reality that the Chinese people lived was seldom the vision of progress and plenty that the posters presented; the universal support for the Communist Party, its leader, and its policies, and the condemnation of its enemies may not have been as wholehearted in real life as in the world of the posters. Rather, the posters offered a glimpse of an unattained future, and ideal that was later abandoned by the Chinese leadership in favour of a distinctively Chinese form of capitalism.

The University of Victoria digital archive concentrates on a golden age of poster production, from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. At this time, a faction within a divided Communist Party both perpetuated the former image of harmony and prosperity, and simultaneously launched urgent and strident political campaigns against its rivals for power. Following that faction’s downfall and the ascendancy of their opponents, the posters presented new directions for the nation. The archive is built around the personal collections of Richard King, of the University’s Department of Pacific and Asian Studies, and Barry Till, Curator of Asian Art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, both of whom studied in China in the mid-1970s and began to buy posters at that time, and also incorporates posters from other collectors.

The archive complements existing online collections which cover a longer time-span but have fewer posters from this important period. The posters were digitized at the University’s MacPherson Library using the TTI/Betterlight system.

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