Blog 3: Propaganda Posters, Rural-Urban Divide and the city
China was typically characterized as having eighty percent of its people in the countryside a way of assessing the troubled and interdependent nature of relations between cities, where most officials lived, and their rural hinterlands, under what the author calls the “Maoist development project” (Brown, 2012) As the famine was followed by the inflating production and mobilization of the Great Leap, urban workers who had been living in Tianjin for years were reminded that their actual registration belonged to the countryside. Many people resisted the banishment to villages they barely knew. Moreover, in famine years, feeding the city became a priority over the commune member’s individual interests. Jeremy Brown represents this unequal power of the city and rural leaders during the Four Clean-ups campaign following the famine.
However, during the Cultural Revolution, The Red Guards unleashed by Mao aggravated the divide between the city and its suburbs as they were forced into the suburbs with other alleged class enemies as we moved into the late 1970s. Every now and then, men from the People’s Liberation Army, under the orders or Mao, could be seen fighting an occasional Red Guard on the periphery of the city. Looking at the class divide between the rural and urban areas, I agree with Jeremy Browns take on the rural-urban divide that shows, “the strength of urban residents’ sense of clarity and conviction about the distinction between their city and the peasants beyond, despite their relative proximity.” In contrast, a hukou or an urban household registration had great advantages. For example, two rural enterprises run by Tianjin city, one a steel works in the remote southwest of Hebei and the other a state farm on Tianjin’s western edges were given urban registration to their personnel despite their rural and remote setting respectively. Regardless of rural or urban settings, the province was filled with propaganda posters and symbols.
I came across the Little Red Book in Tianjin in the 1970s as often as the building facade themselves. The book was first published in 1964 and was widely distributed until 1976 to advocate the communist propaganda. The book almost seemed more prevalent than the leader himself as every political leader posed with the book in propaganda posters on building facades and everyday commodities to express their support for Mao. In this propaganda poster I saw in 1965 in Beijing, is Lin Bao, the Vice Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the right hand of Mao posing with the book. The social and political effects of the book were widespread and Mao’s propaganda was welcomed and fought for by the
people as it was being lead and executed by Lin until 1972 after which he was seen as a traitor. The cityscape was strewed with orange, red, brown propaganda posters, stuck on shop fronts, outside work units, carried by the people, hung on railings. The slogans of which seemed already imbibed.
As a foreigner, I perceived that the case of Tianjin could be compared to the “persuasive architecture” of the Strip in Las Vegas in the 1970’s as described by Robert Brown Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Here, the omnipresent signage and symbolism for the propaganda could be seen as a socialistic expression of the society whereas in the case of Las Vegas a capitalistic expression of the society. What the building, casinos and hotels were to Vegas, the work unit complex was to Tianjin and this began to reflect their respective political ideologies.
With relevance to Victor Hugo’s statement from Hunchback of Notre Dam, “This will kill that” () and Robert Venturi and Denise Brown Scott’s response to his statement in Learning from Las Vegas (), Tianjin neither killed the book nor the architecture. Mao’s communist propaganda was so physically omnipresent and dominating in both mediums because of using “culture as a political tool” that the two only supported each other. Here, the change in attitudes of the people is a direct consequence of prevalent and ideologically singular political and urban development over decades. Alluding to the Mao’s use of “culture as a political tool”, his propaganda “irreversibly changed China’s culture” for the coming years.
I came to Tianjin in 1975, much affected by the iconography and images of the city. It was because of a letter from Fai and a copy of a propaganda poster which stated “Carry Out Struggle Against Lin Biao and Confucian through the end” that pushed me to be a come and these changes. In the letter, Fai informed me about the economic and social challenges brought about by the cultural revolution and how the economy was now largely dependent on the individual work units and the city an organised chaos of work units.
Brown, Jeremy. 2012. City Versus Countryside In Mao’s China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Vol. 345. Everyman’s Library, 2012.
Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas: the forgotten symbolism of architectural form. MIT press, 1977.
Lu, Duanfang. 2011. Remaking Chinese Urban Form. London: Routledge