'In the last few days I have seen two rather odd examples of the way that a dictator considered a Communist can still be revered in a way that Hitler could (quite rightly) not. Westminster University is holding an exhibition called 'Poster Power: Images from Mao's China, Then and Now' at its 309 Regents Street building. Here's the blurb:
'Posters from Mao’s China exercise an enduring appeal to audiences across the globe, more than sixty years after the events that produced them. They are revisited in modern and contemporary Chinese art and commercial design, and curated in exhibitions in China, the US and Europe.Why not a word, nor even an allusion to the around 50 million people killed by the Chinese regime since 1949? why not a mention of the many millions tortured by the Chinese regime and forced to give up their "intellectual" jobs to work on the land as "workers", would that not have resonance for current students? Why not a mention of those killed around Tienanmen Square? Why not a mention of the invasion of Tibet and the destruction of so much Buddhist life? Why not a mention of the human rights abuses that occurred around the Beijing Olympics?
So why does imagery produced to support a revolutionary ideology half a century ago continue to resonate with current Chinese and Western audiences? What is the China we see between posters of the Mao years and their contemporary consumerist reinventions? How do we explain the diverse responses such imagery evokes? And what does the appeal of the posters of Mao’s China tell us about the country’s ‘red legacy’?
Poster Power explores some of these questions through setting up a visual dialogue between posters produced between the 1950s and the 1970s and their echoes in recent years. With posters from the University of Westminster’s Chinese Poster Collection, Chinese video art, documentary film, photographs, and contemporary items such as playing cards and nightclub advertising, the exhibition invites viewers to explore the posters’ ambiguities of appeal to their audiences. As visual reminders of both autocratic rule and exuberant youthful idealism, they evoke diverse responses, challenging the idea that Cultural Revolution poster propaganda transmitted a single, transparent meaning. These posters’ capacity to inspire ambiguous responses opens up new narratives of what remains a complex period of China’s recent past, and sheds light on its changing significance in contemporary China.'
The other example was in an antique shop the other week where there was a small number of photos of Chairman Mao in a case and nobody seemed to think this was odd.
Can you imagine the furore if an antique shop had a collection of Adolph Hitler images on display? Can you imagine the protests if a British University held an exhibition of posters from Nazi Germany and did not put them into context?
Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany killed around seven million people and the regime is rightly abhorred. Mao's communist regime in China killed many many more (as did Stalin's communist regime in the Soviet Union) and yet there is hardly a word of protest in remembrance now. Schools teach the evils of Nazism & the BBC raise the subject regularly, and quite rightly so, but the equally (or more) evils of Mao and Stalin's communist regimes are mentioned far less; why is that the case? Maybe it is something to do with the backgrounds of a large proportion of the BBC, Labour Party leadership and educational elite in this country; once a Marxist, always a Marxist?'