Art Through Time: A Global View
Conflict and Resistance Art: Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan
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.
Melissa Chiu, Museum Director and Vice President for Global Art Programs, Asia Society
“Posters from the Cultural Revolution served a very important educational role that when, in fact, we think of the Cultural Revolution, which spanned from 1966 to ’76, we think immediately of posters. So if anything, they really define for many the art of this period. In a time when China was really going through great political turmoil and change, in fact, the Cultural Revolution is often known to people more as a period of destruction of not just traditional arts and ideas of traditional feudalism, but also in terms of a modernization process. It was a time when China sought to modernize itself by destroying anything that resembled tradition. And posters became a part of that. They disseminated in a very quick way political messages, but also the types of images that were deemed revolutionary in their time. What most people don’t realize is that the posters were actually based on large scale oil paintings, many of them dealing with historical subjects or validating Mao’s role in the revolution, or even talking about the life of workers or peasants during this period who were the heroic figures. Some of the oil paintings, such as Liu Chunhua’s Mao goes to Anyuan, were reproduced nearly a billion times. And so you had, I think, more than any other country and any other period in time, a really wide dissemination of visual culture. There was not a person living in China during this period that did not know this painting.”
“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