Paint it red: the power of posters

Recently I visited the Propaganda Poster Art Centre in Shanghai and was reminded of the power of simple in communications.

Propaganda art poster - factory workers

The Centre holds over 5000 propaganda posters mostly from the Maoist era and the Cultural Revolution and shows visitors the popularity and power of this art form in China.  The Chinese Communist Party used this medium for decades.

Today anyone can use digital media to create and share imagery in an instant.  But from 1949 – when Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Communists came to power on mainland China till the 1980s – posters were popular tools for government communication.

For more than seventy years the Chinese Communists used them to inform, educate and inspire hundreds of millions of Chinese.  In past times literacy rates were low in China so the poster evolved into a powerful and simple way to illustrate correct behaviours and at the same time stir emotional responses. Posters were inexpensive and mass produced and supported government industry, agricultural and community education campaigns and reflect Chinese policy during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Cultural Revolution.

Propaganda art poster - soldier helping peasant womanTheir staple elements were idealised, expressive, bold and colourful graphics, simple slogans and singular themes to tell tales of optimism, success, determination and to shape community attitudes and call for specific actions.

Posters were everywhere – in parks, schools, streets, railway stations and factories. Some even wound up as postage stamps while others were distributed through official government bookshops.

But starting in the mid 80s TV, technology, the web and the ravages of time have seen the propaganda poster largely disappear.

And in some cases when Chinese leadership changed at the top, orders went out to withdraw and pulp posters depicting out of favour themes or personalities who had fallen from grace. A case of yesterday’s hero becoming today’s villain.Propaganda art poster -three services

The legacy of the propaganda poster for the modern marketer is:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Make it bold.
  • And, just as these posters changed and appeared year after year, keep the conversation flowing.

Visit the International Institute for Social History to learn more.








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