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28 Aerial drawing of Dazhai & surroundings


Poster 74 x 47cm
Courtesy of Harriet Evans, collection of the University of Westminster

Dazhai is a small mountain village in Shanxi province with an inhospitable natural environment. The local inhabitants took it upon themselves to modify the landscape and to build water conservation projects, thus resulting in a seven-fold increase in the acreage yield of grain. In 1964, Mao Zedong created the slogan ‘In Agriculture, Learn from Dazhai’, and Dazhai became a model village. We can date this painting to 1975 at the latest, given that this was the last year that the slogan was propagandized on a large scale, and that Dazhai is not mentioned again after the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976. The well constructed buildings painted in the poster are probably from the late Cultural Revolution period after the government had provided large amounts of economic assistance. It is therefore estimated that this poster was printed around 1975.

This painting is a synthesis of traditional Chinese landscape ink painting and the typical bright colours of a Northern Chinese New Year painting (nianhua), which, together with the added propaganda poster elements, form a style that is neither pure Chinese ink painting, nor pure New Year painting. The artist is very possibly a farmer-painter, working under the guidance of a professional such as an art teacher from a university. It combines many attributes that appealed to farmers with the strict painterly perspective that comes from academic training. Another possibility is that a professional person imitated the feelings and thoughts of a farmer to paint it.

The mountain slope in the left corner of the background is the famous Mount Hutou. One of the achievements of Dazhai was to turn a barren mountain unsuitable for agricultural planting into ‘prime land’ and terraced fields by removing the massive rocks and clearing bushes. The dam on top of Mount Hutou was also very famous.

The person on the road at the front of the painting has come to study. At the time ‘Learning from Dazhai’ activities were widespread, and even primary school teachers were sent on organized visits. Towards the end of the Cultural Revolution little else took place in Dazhai. In a small town of only two square kilometers and around 200 families, visitors were seen in all the courtyards and under the shade of the trees receiving instruction. The edge of the dam on Mount Hutou would also be ringed with guests. Outside the village amongst the terraced fields where people planted rice seedlings and used tractors to plow the fields, there would be groups of people sitting studying. In the small oval outside the village, the two groups of people wearing red and green clothes are the people’s militia doing exercises. Although most visitors were domestic, some foreign heads of state expressly requested a visit, and as a result, Dazhai received financial support from the central government.