On 24 January 1967, Mao Zedong renamed the Shanghai People’s Commune as the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee. These Revolutionary Committees (革命委员会, Geming weiyuanhui), which were supposedly based on a “three-way alliance of Red Guards, Party cadres and army men”, were to replace the original political structures that had existed until then in China.
One of their main functions, however, was to bring the factional struggle to an end that crippled the nation. The term “revolutionary committee” itself originated in the Soviet Union, where it refered to a power structure which combined the military and the state.
The formation of the revolutionary committees was the result of the power seizures by rebel and Red Guard factions that had led to nation-wide administrative paralysis. The introduction of the committees was a very slow process. Only by 5 September 1968, almost a year and a half after their inception, the committees had been set up in all provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, “with the exception of Taiwan”. Although Mao himself had allowed that the committees were merely provisional organs of power, they remained in existence until 1979, when they were abolished and replaced by people’s governments at all levels.
The revolutionary committees were not merely organizational tools that served political purposes. All work units, from factories to schools, from workshops to rural communes, formed their own revolutionary committees to take care of day-to-day administration.
The Cultural Revolution (文化大革命, Wenhua Dageming, 1966-1976) was a mass campaign of enormous dimensions. Aside from the general revolutionary high-tide that swept China, the period was marked by a large number of sub-campaigns. Indeed, whenever the situation called for a shift in orientation within the larger framework of the Cultural Revolution, this was engineered by setting in motion a new campaign. Factional struggles within the leadership also functioned as catalysts for campaigns.
Often, these sub-campaigns came so hard and fast that propaganda posters had to serve as the main source of information for the people. With the country in complete chaos, these images which contained clear and unambiguous indications of what behavior and slogans were acceptable at that particular moment, were seen as more dependable than the media. This was in particular the case in those localities where the “excellent revolutionary” situation that prevailed – according to the media, that is – had become completely unintelligible to the innocent bystander.
Locally produced posters are extremely interesting. Not only because they shed light on the local situation, but also from an artistic point of view. They are often striking in their simplicity of design and coloring, usually done in simple red, white and black, and are somewhat reminiscent of the block prints made in the war years. As such, they bear witness to the urgency of the times.
The 3 July and 24 July proclamations are Chairman Mao’s great strategic plans! Unite with forces that can be united with to strike surely, accurately and relentlessly at the handful of class enemies, 1968
The Bloomsbury Auctions sale of artefacts from 20th century China includes a vivid red poster featuring a portrait of Mao above a group of armed Irish rebels, with the Tricolour flying alongside the flag of China.
The poster refers to the “54th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising” and the first anniversary of the “Historic Ninth National Congress of the Communist Party of China”.
Although no date is mentioned, both anniversaries occurred in 1970. It has not yet been possible to establish who produced the poster or where it was used.
During Mao’s rule, lurid propaganda flourished and was presented in many formats including posters, films, books, drawings, handicrafts, paintings, photographs, paper currency, prints and sculptures.
The “Irish” poster is part of a collection of propaganda material amassed by an American collector. A spokeswoman for Bloomsbury Auctions said “the collection was put together over many years and the collector travels to China regularly and buys there too”.
But the Irish poster is puzzling the auctioneers who specialise in selling rare books and manuscripts. The unnamed collector bought the poster in New York and believed that it must have been “produced in Ireland, based on the type of paper used and the fact that no one has ever seen another copy or even heard of such a poster”.
Unusually, the poster does not bear the name of the organisation in Ireland that made it. The collector “regards it as extraordinarily rare, if not unique”, the spokeswoman said.
The poster, with a pre-sale estimate of £1,000 to £1,500, will go under the hammer on Thursday.