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.