Caricature Posters of the Cultural Revolution in Guangzhou: 1966-1967

The Cultural Revolution in Images -- Caricature-Posters from Guangzhou 1966-1977

This section presents Red Guards’ posters dated between 1966 and 1967 targeting purged leaders, as well as member of the intelligentsia.

Until 1966, old-guard cartoonists who achieved position of power during the 1950s – such as Cai Ruohong 蔡若虹, Hua Junwu 華君武, and Mi Gu 米穀 – were the main authors of political cartoons. However during the Cultural Revolution these professional cartoonists lost their positions and they were substituted by young Red Guards eager to employ their artistic skills to support the political uproar (Gan, 2008: 346).

The most famous cartoonist of the Cultural Revolution was Weng Rulan 翁如蘭 (1944-), a Red Guard who owed her success to both her talent and to her elite training in the best fine arts institutions in China (Andrews, 1994: 333-334). Weng Rulan’s caricature poster – namely Crowd of Clowns (群醜圖, Qunchou tu) – appeared in Red Guards’ magazines such as Dongfang Hong in February 1967, and its reproduction became ubiquitous in public places in Beijing (Andrews, 1994: 338). Crowd of Clowns established the iconographic paradigm for the satirical representations of purged leaders, and they strongly influenced Red Guard’s artworks all over China.

Some of the caricature posters presented in this collection are deeply influenced by Weng Rulan’s work, while other predate the publication of Weng Rulan’s work. But what do we know about their function and the identity of their authors? The posters themselves provide us with useful information to reconstruct, at least partially, the history of their production.

For instance, on the basis of what is reported on some posters, we know that some of these images appeared in exhibitions organized in Guangzhou in the early months of 1967. Exhibitions were of utmost importance to the artistic and political work of the Red Guards’ movement. Red Guards in Beijing already started hanging posters around the capital in 1966; while the organization of the first official Red Guards’ art exhibition started in early 1967 (Wang and Yan, 2000: 6). Big character posters (大字報, dazibao) and propaganda posters eulogizing Mao Zedong occupied the most prominent position in these shows; but caricatures also had a space in art exhibitions (Wang and Yan, 2000: 7-10). Inspired by the counterparts in Beijing, Red Guards in Guangzhou organized exhibitions which showcased some of the caricature posters contained in the CUHK Library collection.

These posters also provide some information about their authors. As Weng Rulan, who signed her famous posters with the name of her Red Guard faction, all the caricatures are collectively signed by Red Guards groups instead of individuals. According to these posters, some of the creators were members of Red Guard groups active in Guangzhou art academies, while others were members of more or less known workers’ factions, such as the well-known workers' group Pearl River Film Studio East is Red (珠影東方紅, Zhuying dongfanghong) (Bennet & Montaperto, 1971; Rosen, 1982).This is hardly surprising; in fact, while most of the model art works of the Cultural Revolution are attributed to the Red Guards who received formal training in art academies (such as Weng Rulan), the exhibitions organized in 1967 in Beijing hosted art works by students of Fine Art Academies together with images created by factory workers to emphasize the egalitarian nature of the Cultural Revolution (Andrews, 1994: 337-338). While more extensive research is necessary to understand the political and social background of the authors of these images, it is possible to speculate that these caricatures were employed as weapons across various factions of Red Guards in Guangzhou.

Finally, it is necessary to point out that the authenticity of some the images included in this section is dubious. For instance, a poster by the Propaganda Corps of Mao Zedong’s Though Spirit Thunder Red Guards dated 1 December 1966, is in reality a reproduction of the cartoon “Family” (家庭, Jiating) published by cartoonist Fang Cheng 方成 (1918-) in 1979. Those posters which are not considered original have been flagged by the curator, but they are still included in the collection, as they open a new set of questions for scholars of modern China: Who created these posters? Why are they counterfeited? Are there other counterfeited posters around the world? These are fascinating queries which deserve to be taken into consideration when analysing these artefacts.

Reference:

Andrew, Julia F. Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China 1949-1979. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Bennet, Gordon A. and Ronald N. Montaperto. Red Guard: The Political Biography of Dai Hsiao-ai. London: Allen & Unwin, 1971.
Gan, Xianfeng 甘險峰. Zhongguo Manhua Shi 中國漫畫史 [History of Chinese Cartoons]. Jinan: Shandong huabao chubanshe, 2008.
Rosen, Stanley. Red Guard Factionalism and the Cultural Revolution in Guangzhou (Canton). Boulder, Colo.:Westview Press, 1982.
Wang, Mingxian 王明賢and Yan Shanchun 嚴善錞. Xin zhongguo meishu tushi: 1966-1976 新中國美術圖史 [The Art History of the People’s Republic of China, 1966-1976]. Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 2000.