Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

July 10, 2008

A younger, thinner, taller Hu Jintao

Filed under: China, Material culture/art & design, Propaganda — amyjaneb @ 10:37 am

Ah, the art of propaganda is alive and well in contemporary China, I see.

[Via Danwei]

April 15, 2008

The rights and wrongs of contemporary Sinophilia

Filed under: China, Material culture/art & design, Propaganda — amyjaneb @ 10:04 am

There’s been a really interesting debate about Chinese art, and the current craze for it in the West, on Guardian Unlimited recently.

Jonathan Jones asks:

Isn’t it a bit rich that China, with its human rights record, is being so assiduously courted by so many British museums and galleries?

He suggests that ‘we’ are displaying a blindness towards the reality of the Chinese regime in our seeming obsession for all things Chinese.  In my view this is only an extension of the attitude shown by the business world in recent years; dazzled by the prospect of securing a share of a vast, largely untapped consumer base, coupled with the pull of a seemingly endless supply of cheap unregulated labour, makes it easy to cast aside any lingering concerns about human rights.  Personally, I feel it is a ‘good thing’ if recent events in Tibet and culturally-Tibetan areas of China cause people in the West to stop and think, although I doubt, given how inextricably linked the Chinese economic and labour market now is with the Western economy, individual ethical concerns would have much impact as a cause for good in China (and I strongly believe that real, permanent change can only occur from within.)

Of course the Chinese people are not to blame; they are equally subject to the vicissitudes of their government.  And many of the artists working within China and attracting enormous attention from the Western art world are using their art as subtle commentary on the regime and the official policy of capitalism without democracy, often to the detriment of their careers and personal lives.  So, equally, it is difficult to argue that their voices should be silenced because of wider concerns about the conduct of the CCP.  And this is exactly the argument taken up by Eliza Gluckman in her response to Jones:

Distancing ourselves from Chinese culture will hurt only those labouring with imagination under censorship – there’s more than terracotta at stake

I guess what would be problematic is if China began to assert its influence over British museums and cultural institutions.  And given the track record of the Chinese authorities, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t apply strict conditions with respect to the interpretation of particular objects as a component of any loan or joint exhibition agreements.  Indeed reports at the time accused China of trying to censor the Museum für Asiatische Kunst’s recent exhibition of Tibetan artefacts

March 28, 2008

South African lessons for Chinese museums?

Filed under: China, Cultural Revolution, Exhibitions, Museums — Tags: , — amyjaneb @ 11:20 am

From Danwei:

2008 is the tenth anniversary of the commencement of diplomatic relations between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China. As part of its activities to celebrate the occasion, the South African government has invited actress, director and blogger Xu Jinglei to visit. Xu is planning to produce a book and documentary about the trip.

The correspondent, Maya Alexandri wonders what the Chinese delegation made of the Apartheid Museum, in relation to the current lack of a similar public response to the Cultural Revolution in China.  Although she suggests an implicit admiration for the museum amongst the Chinese visitors, sadly, she doesn’t elaborate – perhaps that line of questioning would have been deemed inappropriate on an official visit?

March 27, 2008

Lost in Translation

Filed under: China, Propaganda, Tibet — amyjaneb @ 11:08 am

There’s a really interesting little article by Channel 4 News’ Beijing Correspondent Lindsey Hilsum on their website (thanks to Danwei for the heads-up), in which she examines the use of Cultural Revolution-esque terminology and language by the Chinese authorities when discussing the ‘Tibet issue’.  While this is nothing new, of course, for example the Chinese propaganda machine continued to churn out hyper-propagandist posters for use in China long after restrictions on art and design in China had been relaxed, it’s thought-provoking all the same. 

March 16, 2008

Sometimes I feel like such a hypocrite

Filed under: China, Protest, Tibet, Web resources — amyjaneb @ 12:48 pm

I’m feeling really torn; between my love of China (my obsession, in fact) and distress at what is happening in Tibet.  Similarly, I cannot wait for the Olympics in Beijing, and yet I am uneasy about my resultant lack of interest in supporting the boycott of the Games over Darfur and Tibet.  Thus, I felt it was wrong for me not to recognise here the ‘cultural genocide’* taking place under the aegis of the Chinese authorities, even though it is decidedly off-topic.  ‘Though, having said that, contemporary Chinese activities in Tibet are likely to have a big impact on the image of China in the West, especially given the current attention focused on Chinese heritage and culture.  Though only if the media gives it full and due attention (something that appears a little lacking at present, IMHO).

Anyway, Jeremiah and the Peking Duck community are doing a valiant job at keeping readers informed and updated about the situation in Tibet.

In other news, my total lack of posts in recent weeks is mainly due to the fact that I am now well into the writing-up process.  And it’s sapping most of my time and energy (as it should!). 

*The Dalai Lama’s words, not mine – ‘though I am inclined to agree.

January 17, 2008

Making a mockery of Mao

According to the BBC, the French car marker, Citroen, has apologised for an advertisement featuring Mao which ran in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.  What I find interesting about this is the response of, presumably, young(er) commentators.  Given that their parents and grandparents are likely to have suffered to some extent during the Cultural Revolution, their support for Mao seems surprising.  Perhaps the unwillingness, or sheer inability (due to trauma and fear of repercussions) of the older generation to discuss the human aspects of the Cultural Revolution, has created a chasm between the experiences of those who lived through it, and the popular imagining of China under Mao?  Would a ‘remembrance’ museum of the Cultural Revolution make a difference?

December 27, 2007

Mao suits and revolutionary dress

Here’s a fascinating little online exhibition from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney that charts the development of Chinese revolutionary dress, and in particular the Mao suit (zhifu).  It’s part of a larger virtual exhibition entitled Evolution and Revolution: Chinese dress 1700s-1990s.  Check out the page on the sartorial ideology of the Cultural Revolution as well.  When I was  much younger I desperately wanted to be a costume historian when I grew up.  Perhaps there’s still a chance!

(Via The Museum of Online Museums)

Modern Mao papercuts

To commemorate the Great Helmsman’s 114th birthday, Wu Suizhou, whom CCTV describes as a ‘folk artist’, has produced a set of papercuts.  The photographs on the CCTV website aren’t very clear (Xinhua is better), but it looks like he has chosen classic propagandist modes of representations of Mao and other communist icons as his models.  Indeed, there’s nothing very new here.  In the bottom right-hand corner in black is a papercut showing Mao, Lenin, Marx and Engels in profile.  This is a copy of similar papercuts available during the Cultural Revolution.  (The British Museum and Musee du Quai Branly have examples in their collections.)

December 22, 2007

More ethical concerns about Mao kitsch

Leading on from yesterday’s post, and also featuring a link which has sat overlooked on my desktop for far too long, is this blog post about the draw of Mao (and ‘Commie’) kitsch in both China and the West.  Also features a link to a small exhibition of Mao memorabilia held during 1998-1999, which I hadn’t previously come across.

I don’t feel there’s much point trying to analyse these posts too much.  They sum up my feelings about the appropriation of Communist iconography in popular cultural contexts perfectly.  Though, I have to admit, I bought a (reproduction) Mao badge in the British Museum shop last week.  Let’s call it ‘research’.  😉

LolMao…that made me smile!

I found thisages ago, and it’s been sitting on my desktop waiting for me to do something with it.  I think the author cogently expresses the ethical grey-area into which communist propaganda (as kitsch, or otherwise) falls.  Not to mention the fear of one’s intention by displaying this material being misinterpreted.  I enjoyed reading the comments best.  Particularly those suggesting that the poster of Mao be modified in a Duchamp kind of style.  Oh, the irony.  😉

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