We visited the Propaganda Museum in Shanghai recently. It actually is called the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre, or PPAC. What is the museum about? Obviously propaganda, or as the dictionary defines it: “chiefly derogatory information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) It is a great collection of 30 years of propaganda posters used throughout the years of Mao and a bit after.
Finding the museum is perhaps the biggest challenge, as it it not located in a special building, or in the middle of Shanghai. It is located in the basement of one apartment building (Building B, to be exact) in a group of apartment buildings, in the French Concession. There are no signs outside the the complex, and no large signs on the building, other than a small 8 1/2″ x 11″ posters outside the door.
We had the address of the museum, 868 Huashan Rd. The Lonely Planet said to ask a guard at the gate for the Propaganda Museum. We did that, and sure enough, he handed us a small card with a map (shown above) showing how find the museum in the complex.
We found the building easily and took the elevator down to the basement where the museum is located. It was a hot day in the 90s, so the cool basement was an excellent place to be. The museum is not large, it only takes about one hour to see the posters displayed. Each section was divided by time periods, with posters from that section depicting the events of that time; many of them, not just showing China’s building of a new country and new communist regime from 1949 to 1959, but also showing the capitalist enemies, the U.S. and Great Britain, represented as ugly grotesque soldiers carrying guns, rockets, bombs, etc.
The posters gave us a very good perspective of history. China started in its communist form in 1949. The Korean War started in 1950. Korea shares a land boundary with China. So US troops have been present in Korea since then. Imagine Chinese troops being in Mexico for the last 60 years!
Mao’s picture was everywhere in posters, on tickets, even on bags that were given out if you bought things there (we did buy things!).
The propaganda posters paint a picture of history, albeit “slanted” in its views, but nevertheless with some accuracy. Notice this poster directed at the Arab countries. This poster was from the year 1958!
There were also posters supporting the civil rights movement in the US in the ’60s, as this is supportive of communist beliefs.
The anti-US posters ran from 1949 until 1972, when Nixon visited China, and relations started to change. Then the anti-US posters ended. Of course, in 1976, Mao died. Then his wife and friends (the Gang of Four), who tried to seize power, became the subject of some posters.
Not all of the posters were against the US. Many promoted Mao’s various programs, like the “Great Leap Forward,” or the “Cultural Revolution.” Some were used to encourage Chinese workers, like the poster of bridge-builders, or the poster below encouraging steel production.
Deng Xiaoping was at times vilified in the posters in the ’60s, as he represented a “rightist” leaning and threat to Mao. Later he was expunged by Mao, and actually later succeeded him in 1979. He was responsible for a lot of China’s progressive ideas and the framework in place today. Deng Xiaoping officially abolished propaganda posters. They were deleted from all government organizations and sent to paper-recycling plants. The museum is fortunate that enough survived for its collection. They are an interesting piece of Chinese history. We very much enjoyed our visit to the Propaganda Museum, and that’s not “propaganda”!