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12 / Conflict and Resistance

Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan
Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan
Artist / Origin Chinese School
Region: East Asia
Date 20th century
Material Color lithograph
Dimensions H: 29 ½ in. (75 cm.), W: 21 3/5 in. (55 cm.)
Location Private Collection
Credit © The Chambers Gallery, London/Bridgeman Art Library

expert perspective

Melissa ChiuMuseum Director and Vice President for Global Art Programs, Asia Society

Additional Resources

“Art and China’s Revolution (September 5, 2008–January 11. 2009).” In Exhibits. Asia Society Web site. http://sites.asiasociety.org/chinarevo.

Chiu, Melissa. Art and China’s Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Cushing, Lincoln, and Anne Tompkins. Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

Min, Anchee, and Duo Duo. Chinese Propaganda Posters. Köln: Taschen, 2007.

In this photograph, number thirty in Lalla E

Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan

» Chinese School

When Mao Zhedong first came to power in 1949, he encouraged artists to create “art for the people” that would convey Communist ideas in ways accessible to the masses.

Realistic oil paintings of workers, soldiers, and peasants began to replace traditionally popular ink paintings featuring such natural subjects as landscapes, birds, and flowers. The institution of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 led to strict regulation of artistic production. Many traditional artists suffered humiliation and torture at the hands of the “Red Guard,” who publicly denounced them and destroyed their artworks and other personal property. Meanwhile, younger artists took this opportunity to create works that would be widely distributed by the government. This color lithograph of Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan is based on a well-known oil painting by Liu Chunhua, which first appeared at the Beijing Museum of the Revolution in 1967. Chunhua’s 1967 portrait depicts the Chairman as a young man walking to the Anyuan coal mine in the western Jiangxi province. In the early 1920s, Mao was among a group of enthusiastic Communist leaders who had guided the mineworkers through a successful strike. The strike had resulted in higher wages, better labor conditions, a radical educational program, and widespread support for the Communist party. The heroic pose and warm, almost glowing tones used to depict the Chairman here are characteristic of the many idealized Mao portraits produced during this period.

Described by party officials as a “model work,” Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan became one of the most popular images of the Cultural Revolution. It was published widely in newspapers and journals, and reproduced in the form of posters, statues, and even on kitchenware. Some believe that more than nine hundred million reproductions of it were disseminated within the decade.

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