Mao Zedong mementos that were issued to commemorate significant developments in political and economic culture have a curiously benign sensibility; some are almost childlike in their execution. The hand-painted faces of Mao and the other characters, done in primary colors and then baked with a shiny glaze, appear like naïve (though political) “China dolls.” Chinese Communist graphic images were rendered in Soviet-style Socialist Realism, but—unlike the solemn Stalinist model—Mao was often purposefully portrayed as a “friendly trade character” (as it is called in contemporary advertising argot). His cheery mien—smiling gently, sometimes laughing—was more like that of a sweet father figure than an iron-fisted Big Brother.
Of all the propaganda memorabilia for exclusive use inside China, the most curious were the thousands of different colorful porcelain figurines and dimensional friezes (some produced in quantities of hundreds of thousands) canonizing real and symbolic heroes and events of the Chinese Communist Party, though many were of Mao. These revolutionary statuettes—produced by “rehabilitated technicians and artisans” working in ceramic workshops throughout China—were usually given as souvenirs to loyal revolutionary functionaries working in the People’s Communes or otherwise supporting the revolution. Recipients so honored were, however, ordered to give them prominent display or endure draconian penalties, including public humiliation, even short jail terms—and heaven help anyone who broke one.
Mao’s image was certainly ubiquitous, but posters and additional branded objects also depicted an array of other party officials. For the better part of the Cultural Revolution, Lin Biao was shown along with Mao (until Lin was killed in a suspicious airplane crash, presumably an assassination for plotting against the chairman). Zhou En-lai and Madame Mao’s likenesses were also painted, drawn, stenciled, cut from paper, woven in silk or engraved on everything from magazine covers to plates to wristwatches.
The 2017 PRINT RDA: Enter Now!
Enter the most respected competition in graphic design—now open to both pros and students—for a chance to have your work published, win a pass to HOW Design Live, and more. 2017 Judges: Aaron Draplin / Jessica Hische / Pum Lefebure / Ellen Lupton / Eddie Opara / Paula Scher. Student work judges: PRINT editorial & creative director Debbie Millman and PRINT editor-in-chief Zachary Petit.
Draplin image: Leah Nash. Hische: Helena Price. Lupton: Michelle Qureshi. Scher: Ian Roberts.