Official Portrait Poster.Shanghai: Printed by Shanghai Xu Shengji yinshua chang, [c.1950] Stock Code: 143323
The "Party and the arty" (Kraus) - a rare early Chinese propaganda poster in exceptional conditionAn exceptionally well-preserved example of a rare Mao portrait poster, published soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China, issued as an early attempt to establish him as a state figurehead. This is an example of a short-lived approach to depicting Mao that quickly gave way to the full-face style seen in official Mao portraits up to the present day.
By 1949, having secured control of China's major cities including the capital, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party turned their attention to consolidating the Party's image in the eyes of ordinary people. Part of this process involved distributing official images of senior figures - especially Mao Zedong - for display in workplaces, schools, and public areas. The present poster was intended to reinforce the stately image of the country's new leader. Painted and printed around 1950, it shows Mao looking into the distance, as if toward the future, projecting the authoritative and contemplative qualities befitting the leader of the world's newest socialist power. The image's imposing size is also designed to manifest Mao's authority. The style closely follows that of a portrait of Mao occasionally hung on the Tiananmen rostrum from May 1950, which showed Mao looking off to the right with a similarly serious expression. The Tiananmen portrait was quickly replaced when critics accused it of making Mao appear aloof and divorced from the concerns of the masses, and subsequent portrait posters strove for a less superior portrayal. Posters, especially those from the early years of the People's Republic, rarely survive, much less in near-fine condition, making the present piece a valuable record of early Communist Party state-building.
In addition, this poster dates from the genesis of the cult of Mao that would balloon to all-encompassing proportions 15 years later during the Cultural Revolution. In the early 1950s, portraits of Mao and other political leaders were not over-used, being often reserved for key political events and dates. Only with the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 did the Party's politburo decide to permanently install a portrait of Mao on the Tiananmen rostrum. Viewed from the perspective of the high point of the Mao cult, the present poster is strikingly modest, devoid of slogans and the bright red colours that dominated the later Maoist cult of personality.
A red circular stamp to the lower right verso reads, "Free copy given by the Editorial and Publishing Office, All-China Federation of Trade Unions". The All-China Federation of Trade Unions was a key political organisation in the early 1950s, helping the Communist Party to exert control over major industries and bring worker movements in line with the government's interests. In 1950, its Editorial and Publishing Office authored a number of texts published by the Beijing Workers Publishing House, the latter listed on the present poster as one of its authorised distributors. This raises the possibility that the Federation of Trade Unions received a number of free copies from the Workers Publishing House to in turn distribute among partners and affiliates.
Colour-lithographic poster (775 x 535 mm). Mao in three-quarter profile looking upwards against a deep red background.
Minor creasing, couple of marks to margin with small faint dampstain to lower right, image unaffected, a few nicks, colours bright and sharp. A rare piece of propaganda in near-fine condition.
Richard Kurt Kraus, The Party and the Arty: The New Politics of Culture, Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.
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