Many contemporary Chinese artists deal in their art works with China's recent past under Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. Images of chairman Mao Zedong and symbols of the old Communist rule are frequent on contemporary paintings, art prints or sculptures. This page presents some typical works of this genre created by leading Chinese printmakers and by an Australian printmaker.
First Publication: August 2009
Latest Update: June 2013
Mao Zedong is on of the most important but also most controversial political figures in the history of the twentieth century.
Mao was born as the son of a farmer. But he received an academic education. He became one of the founders of the Communist Party of China. Before, during and after the occupation of parts of China by the Japanese (1937-1945) he lead the Red Army in the Chinese civil war against the Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-shek.
Famous is the Long March of 1934-35 when Mao lead the Red Army troops out of an encirclement by the Chiang Kai-shek troops over a march of up to 9,000 kilometers to safe territory.
In 1949 Mao established the People's Republic of China and became its first leader. In 1958 Mao launched the Great Leap Forward. What was intended as a huge revolutionary reform to develop China's economy to a level comparable to modern Western nations or the Soviet Union, ended in an economic disaster. Historians guess that 20-30 million people died of famines as a result of the failed "Great Leap Forward" program.
Due to this failed reform Mao Zedong resigned as chairman of the People's Republic of China. But he regained more power than ever before by initiating the Cultural Revolution and putting himself in control of the Red Guards - youths who rampaged through the country and the so-called autonomous regions like Tibet in order to eradicate what Mao called "old ways of thinking".
During the Cultural Revolution cultural heritage of vast dimensions was destroyed within the national borders of China and thus also regions like Tibet. These excesses not only destroyed cultural assets, but ruined the economy and the society for years. Religious persecution and the persecution of people of an academic or intellectual background beyond that of a typical farmer was another terrible result.
Guesses about the number of victims vary largely and the full truth may never be found out. But it could be more than a million people that found death by the terror of the Red Guards. Many Chinese committed suicide in despair. Disturbing reports about incredible atrocities are numerous. The personality of Mao Zedong was raised to a god-like status with massive brain-washing through the controlled media and by intimidating potential opponents.
In Western countries the Mao cult became popular among a small minority of students, intellectuals and artists. This movement was less politically motivated, but rather emerged as a strange, cultural phenomenon meant to provoke the established order. Western students who were engaged in this pro-Mao culture saw it all as a kind of a great, "clownesque happening", a kind of "party event". The Western population had practically no information what the Cultural Revolution really meant and what was going on in China.
Portraits of Mao Zedong and other icons of "Red China" became "hip" in the Western pop art culture. The silkscreen portraits of Mao Zedong by Andy Warhol, the King of Pop Art, were the most visible landmarks of the Mao Cult in Western Arts.
In the early 1980s China's Communist Party began to move away form the old order. Reforms were introduced in all areas of the economy and society. The old propaganda style in arts was replaced by a certain liberalism in arts.
In the 1990s and in the new millennium many Chinese artists began to show images of "Chairman Mao" and typical "red" icons from the rule of the "Great Chairman" in their art works. The generation that was grown up under the old regime like Zhou Lu have struggled hard to cope with the past and with the fast changes in "New China".
Others may have turned towards the subject as it seemed to be a successful formula to become an internationally famous and rich artist. After 2007 an incredible boom for contemporary China art had emerged with record prices at international auction sales in Hong Kong, New York, London and elsewhere.
The original art prints shown on this page have been sold by artelino in past online auctions. You find them in detail in our art archive.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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