Archive for January, 2011

Evans and Donald

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

        In their introductory essay to Picturing Power in the People’s Republic of China, editors Harriet Evans and Stephanie Donald effectively establish how posters produced during the Cultural Revolution represented “visual texts . . . that were used as a major vehicle for the transmission of political messages at the time” (1).  But in addition, Evans and Donald provide insights into how the analysis of posters can enrich our understanding of the Cultural Revolution and help explain how Mao Zedong used them to not only educate but also manipulate and control the mass public in order to promote his socialist agenda and solidify his claim to authority.   As Evans and Donald point out, posters produced during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution paradoxically can be viewed as aesthetically pleasing but also as “graphic reminders of mass insecurity, arbitrary violence, and personal trauma” (5).  In her essay “Growing Up with Posters in the Maoist Era,” Xiaomei Chen informs how posters influenced her growing up in Beijing as they “constructed and reconstructed who I was and what was socially expected of me” (105), and how (not surprisingly) posters could convey different meanings depending on one’s age, gender, class, etc.

        Many of the millions of posters that were produced during the Cultural Revolution have survived, although apparently little seems to be known of the artists who produced them.  Who were they?  Are any still living?  Has any attempt been made to establish contact with and to interview any surviving artists?  We learn from Evans and Donald that the posters conformed to Mao’s “basic principles of artistic creation” (3) and were produced in accordance with “perilously exacting standards of political and cultural purity” (4), but what was the process?  As Sang Ye accomplished through interviews in China Candid, it would have been fascinating to learn through interviews the process by which artists were forced to subordinate their artistic creativity to Mao’s rigid control.  It seems that the difficulty in exploring the relationship between the form and content of Cultural Revolution posters, to which Evans and Donald allude in their essay (9), could have been eased by interviewing surviving artists.

research proposal

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Topic Idea # 1: “Car Ownership in China”

            Apparently, the Chinese government has signified that the ownership of automobiles and motor homes is not only acceptable but represents the Chinese ideal of the happy home life.  The Chinese are buying more and more cars and will soon overtake the U.S. as the world’s number 1 auto market.  According to an article in the Los Angeles Times on 25 January 2011, General Motors sold more cars and trucks in China than it did in the U.S. during 2010.  GM’s vehicle sales in China rose nearly 29% last year to 2.4 million, whereas U.S. sales increased just 6% to 2.2 million.  In addition to GM, a Chinese entrepreneur has recently negotiated a deal with a Southern California firm to build and export an estimated $5 billion worth of recreational vehicles and motor homes to China over the next few years.

    My paper would explore a number of issues, including the following:  What does car ownership represent in Chinese culture?  How has car ownership changed Chinese culture, from leisure activities to dating/marriage rituals?  What are the implications with respect to increased air pollution?  new infrastructure (roads, signage, etc.)?  increased mobility and traffic congestion?  economic growth?  Now that the Chinese government has allowed the car genie out of the bottle, what will it do to control its growth?  Will car ownership lead to a growing disparity between classes (urban rich v. rural poor) inconsistent with the official CCP socialist policies?

    Preliminary sources include various newspaper articles and a recent (2009) study by Martin Calkins that appeared in the Journal of Business Ethics, “King Car and the Ethics of Automobile Proponents’ Strategies in China.”

Topic Idea # 2: “The Cultural Revolution as a Human Event”

            My paper would explore the nature and individual experience of political and ideological violence during the Cultural Revolution; the vulnerability of humanity to the call of violence.  How did ordinary people get wrapped up in it?  What drove them to smash authority, destroy centuries of culture, and give into mob mentality?

            Preliminary sources include the following books: Spider Eaters by Rae Yang, Red-Color News Soldier by Li Zhensheng, China Candid by Sang Ye, and Ten Years of Madness by Feng Jicai.

Andrew Frisk

comic book

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Women had little voice in the traditional feudal marriage system that existed prior to the promulgation of the New Marriage Law in 1950.  The old system of marriage constituted a commercial transaction in which the woman was bought.  It was equivalent to virtual enslavement whereby the marriage was arranged by families with little or no regard for the wishes of the woman.  Selection of a wife was based on family needs and values rather than on attraction, love, or emotional involvement.  In addition, once married, women often were mistreated and abused by their husband and husband’s family, as Li Fengjin discovered when her husband’s brother said as he and her husband beat her:  “You were bought with more than twenty dan of rice.  If we want you to die, then you die” (5).  When faced with such abuse, a woman had little help.  Her own family was often reluctant to take her back, perhaps lacking the funds to support her and/or feeling embarrassed (loss of face) at already having accepted a large betrothal gift from the groom’s family to cement the transaction.  Also, under the feudal system of marriage, wives were subject to arbitrary punishment by husbands and his family with little recourse to established law or human rights.  Following marriage, a woman existed at the mercy of her husband and his family.

The success of the socialist revolution in China depended upon revolutionary change in the Chinese family.  Within a year of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, a new marriage law was passed that was designed to bring about fundamental changes in family relationships.  The New Marriage Law of 1950 marked the abolition of the feudal marriage system and its replacement with a new system wherein women had the right to escape an oppressive marriage through divorce proceedings.