Skip to Content

33 Get rid of selfishness and develop public spirit

The Department of Shanghai Publishing System Revolutionary Rebel Command, the Propaganda Department of the Revolutionary Rebel Committee of the Shanghai People's Art Publishing

Poster 53.5 x 77.5cm

The subtitle of the painting is: Make the ‘Three Old Articles’ the philosophy to study. The male worker at the centre of the crowd holds high in his hands the ‘Three Old Articles’ which were written by Mao in the 1930s and 1940s: ‘Serve the people’, ‘Remembering Bethune’, and ‘The foolish old man moves the mountain’. ‘Serve the people’ was written in September 1944, and was delivered at a memorial to Zhang Side, guard of the Chinese Communist Central Committee. ‘Remembering Bethune’ detailed the commitment of Norman Bethune (1890-1939), a Canadian Communist Party member and doctor who ‘without benefiting himself at all he worked just for others’. Bethune died while providing medical care to soldiers at the front line during the Second World War. ‘The foolish man moves the mountain’ was delivered by Mao in 1946. It encouraged the army and people to be like the foolish man who moves the mountain to defeat difficulties, and thus to persist in carrying out revolution to the end. The foolish old man is a character from a folk tale who, in order to make it easier for him to come and go, led his sons and grandsons to dig out the two big mountains at his front door. In the story, Mao says that these two mountains are imperialism and feudalism.

The PLA soldier to the right holds to his heart The collected works of Mao Zedong, whilst the farmer holds a blackboard on which is written ‘The sayings of Chairman Mao: be resolute, do not fear sacrifice, overcome obstacles, fight to victory’. In 1966, Mao’s designated successor, Lin Biao raised the idea within the military of studying the ‘Three Old Articles’. He proposed that by reciting Mao’s works a ‘revolutionisation of thought’ could be achieved, as well as contributing to the worship of Mao himself.

This painting contains many tropes of propaganda posters from the early part of the Cultural Revolution: workers, peasants and soldiers; big strong ‘iron fists’; red flags, books and seas; the uplifted fighting spirits of the people, overflowing with confidence. During this time, the posters came predominately from the People’s Art Publishing house in Beijing and Shanghai People’s Art Publishing. They were drawn by professionals and demonstrated a mature style and language. After June 1967, the Shanghai publishing system ceased to function consistently. Instead, with each successive political movement the publishers would immediately start to organise people to go into production. Although their work was fragmented by the new (anti-) system of production, nonetheless the production staff were professionals, the production methods were also professional, and this is demonstrated by attention to commercial details: the date of publishing was printed on the posters along with quantity printed and price.

Courtesy of Harriet Evans, collection of the University of Westminster