Tucked away in a corner of an apartment complex is one of Shanghai’s coolest art museums. We arrived and were greeted by the security people, who waved at us frantically. He seemed to be a bit angry, but as we approached cautiously, ready to be told off in Mandarin, he grinned a goofy smile and handed up direction cards that showed a dotted line towards where the museum entrance was. Down one floor in an elevator to a basement in building C we went and the doors opened to a small but incredibly cool museum.
The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Museum is super interesting. It claims to have over 6000 pieces of art, but the two large rooms seemed to hold closer to 50-100 posters.
One of the opening posters detailing the exhibit read:
“Behind the happy faces beaming out of these posters, one can only guess at the true-life anxieties and hardships of the people these posters purported to represent.”
A little history lesson for you: the first propaganda posters in the museum were from the 1949-1953 time period when artists were encouraged to produce rich works of art. The topics: anti-Japanese war and crusading for liberation. The posters were all printed in privately owned plants around Shanghai.
As time progressed, the theme shifted to posters depicting Chairman Mao was the red sun shining down on sunflowers representing people. The shift from the 1930s where artwork showed a lot of calendar girls to the propaganda art was drastic. But the fine artistic detail that went into these posters, whether using earlier European techniques or the later distinctly Chinese touch, made these posters really intriguing for all ages and classes of Chinese people.
Unfortunately, many of the posters were destroyed in 1971 after Lian Biao, who had tried to oust Mao, died in a plane crash. Luckily, though, some of the artwork lives on in this hole in the wall museum. And all visitors that have a chance to pay the 20 kuai entrance fee will be able to experience the “soaring spirit of the people’s optimism” that is shown throughout the exhibit.