Shanghai: If you can’t get the truth, go shopping

Post # 7 Shanghai Monday Oct. 22, Tuesday Oct. 23

After a leisurely morning, I headed by taxi for the Shanghai Propaganda Art Center – a destination suggested by contributors to Trip Advisor. This was a trip highlight. This place (not surprisingly if you think about it) is hiding in the basement floor of an apartment complex in the French Concession; a guy slips you a map when you arrive at the entryway to the apartment complex so you can navigate the various indistinct residential buildings. You go in building B and take an elevator down. (

It’s an amazing collection of original posters (which are stunning works of art) from 1949 – 1979 in Shanghai, including the war, the great leap forward, the cultural revolution, and the years which followed. Many are the only original posters to survive after all propaganda from the period was ordered to be destroyed. The Chinese man who runs the museum also owns the collection (he speaks excellent English).

The introductory text, and the text (English) which accompanies each poster, acknowledge the chasm between the rosy images of happy, industrial people and the reality of the suffering the Chinese people endured while these lies we’re told.

Here’s the introductory text in the museum and in the museum’s 2011 catelogue (well worth the price): “In the days before CNN and Fox News, a still image truly was worth a thousand words, and these posters were how Mao and his group informed and restored the collective mind of the Chinese people. It is a heroic saga of countless victories over momentous struggle. Still, behind the happy faces beaming out of these posters, one can also guess at the true life anxieties and hardships of the people these posters purported to represent. Indeed, each poster is both a work of art and an insight into the events of those times.”

The beautiful girl posters (50’s) project the charm and opulence of old Shanghai.

The cold war posters (1950) show Chinese might against the evil, sniveling, weakling, the US, and highlight its ties to its allies in Moscow and Cuba, and revolutionaries everywhere.

The agricultural and industrial posters show China pulling ahead in the world, surpassing the west, happily working harder to increase farm yield, industrial and steel production. Posters show robust youth cheerfully boarding trains bound for farm communes in the countryside (1970).

Later posters are a form of graffiti called Dazibao, hand-written denunciations posted on city streets during the Cultural Revolution. They were scrawlings in harsh reds and blacks, spelling out the names of traitors to the party, denunciations leading to punishment or death for those called out. Mao was the first to make a denunciation (his predecessor), and the one to later ban and destroy all denunciations.

This young woman is cheerfully taking birth control to help China.

While the deception of these posters makes you want to scream (at China), it’s worth remembering that we had our own version of propaganda posters going on in the US during WW2 and the Korean War. Remember those US newsreels from the 40 ‘s and 50’s? Big difference: we didn’t order those records of the day to be destroyed.

Here’s a piece of text from one of the panels in the museum which summarizes the experience of the Shanghai Propaganda Art Center. “The cultural revolution itself was like a psychopath who had done a string of bad deeds, but maybe just one thing – the body of art works left behind – is still an outstanding treasure.”

I bought some notecards and a book covering the collection and the story of the museum. Note to readers: don’t miss this museum on your trip to Shanghai.

Went to the Blue Frog across the for an easy dinner that night.

Tuesday October 23 Shanghai

Packed and ready for a mid afternoon departure for Hong Kong, I took off for the Post Office. Did I want to pay a taxi driver to take me to the Post Office? NO! I asked the concierge for directions to the POSTER museum – another museum different from yesterday’s museum and much different from a post office! Fortunately, the post office was located near the bund so I took in views of the Pearl Tower during the day, enjoyed a last walk along the Bund, and walked down Nanjing road once again.

Jobs available for Americans in China.

Copy writers. You could make a fortune correcting all the nagging syntax problems in signs and printed material everywhere throughout Asia, even in nice hotels, airports, and street signs.

* Signs at the breakfast buffet that say, “scrambled egg with bacons.”
* Or a sign on a trash bin in central Hong Kong, “Litter Cum Recyclables.”
* Or a sign above the hiking trail at the Bride’s Falls in Hong Kong: “Hiking Practice Trail.” (So where was the real trail?)

Concierges. See Post Office story above.

Computer geeks. Help visitors add VPN’s or whatever the heck they need in order to access the sites they need – like Facebook, Wikipedia, and WordPress blog sites. These sites – and many other user generated sites which you can preview on a search, do not open. You get a screen that says, “invalid argument.” Huh? But who cares about learning stuff when you can shop to your heart’s content in China. Just go to and buy something. Gucci, Swarovski, Longines.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad



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