Leaders and Role Models

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The idea of perfecting oneself through emulation of an admired model has a long tradition in China.  One of the fundamental premises of Confucian teaching is that setting a good example is a more effective way of instilling proper values than punishment.  Role models also feature prominently in much of the political propaganda from the People’s Republic of China.  The ultimate model was, of course, Chairman Mao himself.  A virtual cult of personality was created around him; a portrait of him hung in every home and his image was to be seen everywhere in public.


The woodcut to the left is titled "Never Get Rusty."

What are some possible meanings of the title in this context?

How does the artist tell you who the main figure is here?

"Never Get Rusty"                                                        source

During the 1950s, the period of consolidation for the Communist regime, China looked to the example of the Soviets as a successful socialist model.  Accordingly, Socialist Realism was adopted as the official style.  This realism was later combined with what Mao called "Revolutionary Romanticism."  The combination was to result in works of art that, while taking their cues from everyday life, often imbued their subject matter with a romantic aura.  Compositions usually focused on figures and were colorful and detailed. 

The oil painting below is entitled "Chairman Mao Has Come to Our Factory." The slogan hung from the roof reads "March Down Chairman Mao's Revolutionary Road."

How are colors and forms used in this painting to emphasize its theme?  Why do you think some parts are more idealized when others seem simply realistic?

"The Chairman Has Come to Our Factory"                                                         source

Under Communist rule people were divided into four classes: peasants, workers, bourgeois, and capitalists.  These four were lead by the CCP. Virtuous members of the working class were also extolled in posters as fitting models.

In the background of the picture to the left is Lei Feng, an orphaned peasant raised by the Communist Party.  He went on to become a soldier and died at the age of twenty-two.   Lei Feng was imagined as being extremely loyal to the country and loving the people in earnest. In the early 60s he was promoted as a role model for the army and the people. In the little girl's hands is Lei Feng's journal, which was published after his death and became very popular.


How does the artist use visual means to draw a connection between the little girl and Lei Feng?

Lei Feng and a young girl           source


Mao believed that the People's Liberation Army should be closely involved in the lives of the masses.




Do you think that this poster is aimed more at soldiers or more at farmers?

A soldier helping a peasant with the wheat harvest


Billboards, seen everywhere in cities and towns, are often designed to teach appropriate public behavior.  The billboard below is about riding bicycles, the major means of transportation for millions of Chinese.

What kinds of behavior are specifically endorsed by this image?

Billboard of bicycle riders                                                                   source

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