Recently I was searching through my old drawers in the hope of finding a piece of retro-treasure that I could sell to fund this month’s booze requirements. Perhaps a Millennium Falcon or even a homemade Tracy Island play set. Alas, no. However, I did stumble upon some of my old Chinese propaganda collection.
Back in the day I used to collect quite a large amount of Cultural Revolution bric-a-brac. Today, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you some selected passages from the May 1976 edition of the People’s Liberation Army Pictorial Paper – just four short months before the Great Helmsman was due to pop his clogs and enter the big Communist Party in the sky.
A solid choice for the front page of the PLA Pictorial. The classic Chairman Mao in full colour waving at the masses. I don’t think there was ever an edition of the PLA Pictorial that didn’t have Mao as the front page celebrity – a bit like how Philip Schofield is ALWAYS on British TV no matter what you are watching.
The main story of the month was the monuments meeting between Chairman Mao meeting some representatives from the Laotian Communist Party. Remember, this was just four months before Mao shuffled off this mortal coil and he is looking decidedly decrepit in this photo. Lie him down, stick him in a glass coffin, and he doesn’t look much different now.
Inside front cover: lovely red-tinged (literally AND politically) poster wishing victory to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Only the front and back pages, plus a central section, are in colour. The rest of the magazine sees a huge decrease in quality and even the paper is a little rougher. The same can’t be said for the content though! Here we have a fascinating pictorial on how the Party’s decisions are benefiting the masses all over China and being welcomed by everybody. Surely true Communism was only mere months from being achieved if it hadn’t been for that meddling Deng Xiaoping and his dastardly reforms.
Images from Xi’an, Lanzhou, Kunming and Guiyang in uniform dull black and white. The signs all basically say the same thing: uphold the Central Party’s wise two resolutions. What those two resolutions are I have no idea. Interestingly, the lower sign in the bottom left picture (Kunming) exhorts people not to follow the incorrect capitalist path of reformer Deng Xiaoping. Note how the two characters for Xiaoping have been deliberately slanted to an angle.
The glossy centrefold section. No nudes or Playboy bunnies here though, just morally upright images of everyday life in the worker’s paradise.
This is a performance in Guizhou of the revolutionary opera Sha Jia Bin which you can watch here if you are interested. It’s basically just about fighting the Japanese.
See how the women of China were set free from their chains and given the liberty to spend their lives working in factories. Women hold up half the sky! This liberated young lady is inspecting a high-pressure insect killing light.
Look at these wonderful products. It’s astonishing how the West didn’t just collapse overnight in the face of this astonishing industry. Above picture is a tractor, below are some generators.
This is how the full page looks. The bottom right picture shows the peasants warmly welcoming their new agricultural equipment.
I love this photo. It’s amazing how people’s faces actually looked different back then, as if they were infused with the holy revolutionary spirit itself. This is a branch of the Wuhan Party Support Team who have “organised some revolutionary cultural activities for the cause of class struggle”. These activities mainly consist of singing in large groups and writing slogans on walls. Not my words, the words of the People’s Liberation Army Pictorial Paper.
The Secretary and Deputy Secretary of a factory. The headline says that previously they had “never touched the oily parts of a machine, but now have become technical masters!”
The rest of the magazine is more or less the same: photos of people holding up banners, photos of machinery and photos of Mao. The editorial team certainly didn’t have to worry about clicks so you won’t see eye-grabbing headlines like “This one weird trick to denounce your neighbours!” or “Capitalists hate him! Find out how Wang Yang increased his class solidarity overnight!”
While looking through these magazines, I also found some of my large collection of Cultural Revolution era pin badges that I have amassed.
The last one is my personal favourite. It shows an Asian, European and African hand rising up in solidarity to hold aloft a portrait of Chairman Mao. How quaint.
The badges above are fairly generic pin badges that people would wear on their lapels. Below are some special collector’s sets that were never meant to be worn but were meant to be showcased in one’s home and treasured as great revolutionary tat.
Inside are badges of “New China’s Ten Greatest Marshals” and “New China’s Ten Greatest Generals”.
Close up of the Marshals. Here you can see (from top to bottom) Zhu De, Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao. The write-up for Lin Biao denounces him as a counter-revolutionary and mentions his death in a plane crash over Mongolia.
Not as rare or as exciting as the Marshals and Generals badges, here are some generic Mao badges that anybody can buy in Tiananmen Square or in Mao’s hometown. The slogan on the left refers to Mao as “The Red Sun in the Hearts of the People.”
Quite who would wear all of these badges in this day and age is beyond me, though I would dearly love to see somebody rocking all twenty badges of China’s greatest Marshals and Generals. Maybe somebody can open up a restaurant that is a cross between TGI Fridays and a 1960’s commune kitchen so that the staff can strut their flair.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.