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Notes from China's underground propaganda museum

Posted by: under Minnesota governor Updated: August 5, 2013 - 5:49 PM
Revolutionary coffee mug

Revolutionary coffee mug

Communique No. 8: In China, communist propaganda has gone underground.
 
In fact, the only place you can see idealized posters of Mao and his cadres of heroic workers building utopian communities is in a basement level museum tucked away in a nondescript apartment building in downtown Shanghai.
 
The Propaganda Poster Museum is the private project of Yang Pei Ming, who supports this labor of love by selling admission tickets and gifts in this subterranean enclave of political nostalgia. If you leave your change, Yang will find you and return it.
 
Working from a closet-sized office, Yang is a soft-spoken, unobtrusive man who worried that the art of the posters and the turbulent history they document were in danger of disappearing in China.  Over the past 15 years, he’s collected more than 5,000 posters and other artifacts of the Cold War and the Cultural Revolution.
 
In the go-go, free-wheeling market culture of modern Shanghai, it seems few locals drop in. The majority of the museum-goers look like Americans and other Westerners trying to come to terms with their outdated images of China.
 
China remains under the rule of the Communist Party, but its edges have softened considerably. There’s no longer a Propaganda Ministry. It’s been rebranded the Publicity Ministry, or, as some prefer, and Information Ministry.
 
Perhaps that goes to show that the Chinese are no less image conscious than they were in the days of Socialist Realism, with its militaristic themes and soaring depictions of the people’s spirit.

 

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