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29 Celebrating a good harvest

Han Xiang

Poster 77.5 x 53cm
Hebei People’s publishing
Courtesy of Harriet Evans, collection of the University of Westminster

Han Xiang was born in Hebei in 1940. In 1959 he became an art teacher at Baoding Normal School, and later he moved to Southern Baoding City District Propaganda Bureau where he worked for ten years. In 1985, he graduated from the Zhejiang Art Academy. His works are mainly Chinese painting and watercolour, and he has specialized in painting bamboo. He claims that he paints only for personal pleasure.

In Mao’s time each time a new movement was announced, for instance the land reforms and the Great Leap Forward, villages and farmers would appear as important topics in a large number of propaganda posters.
The central characters in this painting are three males, one each representing workers, farmers and the People’s Liberation Army. The unity of workers, farmers and soldiers embodies the base for the political power of the Chinese Communist Party. The soldier wears the green national defence uniform, with the red five star collar but without insignia of rank, which appeared during the Cultural Revolution.

The young men and women on the truck and tractor are holding up a slogan in their hands: ‘The political guidelines are the key. When the key is in place the rest falls in place’ and ‘Grain is the key, with full scale development’ which were slogans that appeared after the 1972 movement to ‘Take hold of the revolution. Stimulate production’. The text in the far right corner reads ‘We must fix up River Hai for good’. The River Hai is a river in Tianjin, which identifies this as a New Year style propaganda poster from a publisher in the Hebei Provincial district.

New Year posters were designed to communicate information to farmers in a way that supposedly appealed to them. This painting has characteristics of northern Chinese New Year painting at the same time as it has strong marks of propaganda paintings. The size of the painting is enormous to match its propangandizing claims. In this picture farmers report good news to the Communist Central Committee. ‘Double happiness’ is written on the board held by the farmer in the centre. ‘In Agriculture, Learn from Dazhai’ implies high grain production and ‘Fix River Hai for Good’ implies good results from the building of water conservation projects.

The title Celebrating a good harvest suggests that the lives of the farmers in the villages are bounteous, and that their prosperity is achieved through solidarity with soldiers and workers. In the painting, men and women march separately, yet the women wear clothing that makes no distinction regarding gender. Similarly their faces are almost indistinguishable from the men’s. This signals that for participants in the Cultural Revolution gender differences, like differences between farmer, soldier and worker, are supposedly irrelevant. Nonetheless, as Harriet Evans as shown (1999), there are consistent signs that the masculine form is dominant across a wide sample of the posters from the period.