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32 Hold high the revolutionary banner of proletarian criticism


Poster 54 x 79.5cm
Courtesy of Harriet Evans, collection of the University of Westminster

This poster advertises an exhibition of cartoons titled ‘Hold high the revolutionary banner of proletarian criticism’. The year is 1967, but the actual date and location are blank, therefore this poster was not distributed.

The cartoon exhibition sponsors are written very clearly on the poster. One is the ‘Great Unifying Committee of Liaoning Revolutionary Group’; the other is the ‘Shenyang Division of the Mao Zedong Thought Red Guards’. In the provincial capitals and large cities in 1967, Red Guard groups had already started to form factions opposed to each other. The Shenyang Division was one of the largest groups. After intense fighting, they united together with other similar organizations to form the Great Unifying Committee.
During the Cultural Revolution there were many cartoon exhibitions by revolutionary groups or Red Guards in Beijing and Shanghai. This poster mentions the Shenyang posters being exhibited in Beijing. Effectively, it is a propaganda poster about propaganda posters.
In the middle of the poster is a male Red Guard, full of masculine vitality. He has thick eyebrows, big eyes, a strong jaw, muscular and powerful arms, a ruddy complexion, and a resolute expression, and thus completely matches the Cultural Revolution propaganda poster’s ideal of a ‘big, strong and perfect’ revolutionary.
In his hand he holds up the four books of Mao’s Collected Works, the treasured classic of the Cultural Revolution emanating rays of light like the sun. Held tightly in the hand stretching out to the front are two grotesque ‘little people’: the once deputy national chairman Liu Shaoqi and the former Party Secretary of the Communist Central Committee Deng Xiaoping. When Mao Zedong initiated the ‘Cultural Revolution’, one of its aims was to reorganise the central leadership structure and to establish his position of absolute leadership. In January 1967, with Mao’s consent, the Central Cultural Revolution Group publicly promulgated the slogans ‘Overthrow Liu Shaoqi’ and ‘Overthrow Deng Xiaoping’. This was just one in a series of rise and falls for Deng Xiaoping. He was rehabilitated in 1973, only to be denounced again in 1975. After the Gang of Four were overthrown in 1976, Deng Xiaoping emerged as the defacto leader and went on to lead China’s political and economic reforms.