Woodcuts  The history of propaganda art begins with the New Woodcut Movement of the post- May Fourth era. As in literature, artists wanted to create a new style that derived neither from the elite art of China nor the West. Woodcuts were a medium for exploring new stylistic possibilities. The subject matter of woodcuts of this period often focused on peasants and workers, and traditional New Year’s prints were reformulated with a new style and new artistic agenda. Important early woodcut artists include Li Hua and Gu Yuan.

1950s  In the 1950s propaganda art was influenced primarily by Socialist Realism from the Soviet Union. This Soviet Realism was blended with traditional Chinese elements and techniques. Art produced to promote the Great Leap Forward was designed to communicate economic objectives and inspire workers, and therefore used a brighter, more dynamic style than typically found in Soviet Realism.

Cultural Revolution  Posters produced in the Cultural Revolution emphasized the heroism of workers, peasants and soldiers and depicted the successes of Socialism on all fronts. Mao Zedong was featured prominently. During this period, propaganda art was the most important means used to communicate party ideology.

During the Cultural Revolution, peasant painters were heavily promoted, most famously those of Hu County, Shaanxi. It was revealed later that the peasant painters had considerable help from professional artists and artistic manuals.

The Four Modernizations and After  Propaganda art during the Four Modernizations Era promoted new goals: the advancement of industry, agriculture, national defense, and science and technology. There were stylistic changes as well. More abstract images were used, the style often had an "international" feel, and influences from advertising were apparent.

Additionally, painters working in the 1980s and 1990s took the propaganda art of earlier periods as their subject matter, often offering ironic commentary on well-known images.

What follows is a slide show of propaganda art from different periods. Click the arrow at the bottom of this page to begin.

This introduction draws on Stefan Landsberger's book on propaganda posters, Chinese Propaganda Posters: From Revolution to Modernization, (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1995). You may want to visit two excellent websites on propaganda posters: The Chairman Smiles (posters of Mao) and Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster site.

index of images in the slide show