Mao's New World

Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic

Chang-tai Hung
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mao's New World
    Book Description:

    In this sweeping portrait of the political culture of the early People's Republic of China (PRC), Chang-tai Hung mines newly available sources to vividly reconstruct how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tightened its rule after taking power in 1949. With political-cultural projects such as reconstructing Tiananmen Square to celebrate the Communist Revolution; staging national parades; rewriting official histories; mounting a visual propaganda campaign, including oil paintings, cartoons, and New Year prints; and establishing a national cemetery for heroes of the Revolution, the CCP built up nationalistic fervor in the people and affirmed its legitimacy. These projects came under strong Soviet influence, but the nationalistic Chinese Communists sought an independent road of nation building; for example, they decided that the reconstructed Tiananmen Square should surpass Red Square in size and significance, against the advice of Soviet experts sent from Moscow.

    Combining historical, cultural, and anthropological inquiries, Mao's New World examines how Mao Zedong and senior Party leaders transformed the PRC into a propaganda state in the first decade of their rule (1949-1959). Using archival sources only recently made available, previously untapped government documents, visual materials, memoirs, and interviews with surviving participants in the Party's plans, Hung argues that the exploitation of new cultural forms for political ends was one of the most significant achievements of the Chinese Communist Revolution. The book features sixty-six images of architecture, monuments, and artwork to document how the CCP invented the heroic tales of the Communist Revolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6223-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Romanization
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    When Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976) declared at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), on September 21, 1949, in Beiping (Beijing), that the “Chinese people have stood up!” (Zhongguo renmin zhan qilaile),¹ this master propagandist was not merely announcing the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which was to occur officially on October 1, in Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen guangchang). His words also carried powerful symbolic meaning, signaling that a nation had been created anew, had broken from its humiliating past, and had eliminated, once and for all, the imperialist domination it had suffered since the late Qing...

  8. I. Space

    • 1. Tiananmen Square: Space and Politics
      (pp. 25-50)

      The above appeared on a poster at a grand rally in Tiananmen Square in February 1949.¹ This celebration in what was then Beiping, soon to reclaim its former name of Beijing, was organized by the Chinese Communist Party to mark the liberation of this fabled city by the Red Army on January 31. The analogy the poster drew between Tiananmen Square and Moscow’s Red Square was common in the early days of the People’s Republic of China.² The announcement by Mao Zedong of the founding of the PRC in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949, captured the world’s attention. The...

    • 2. Ten Monumental Buildings: Architecture of Power
      (pp. 51-72)

      Political power is typically exercised through military might, an entrenched bureaucracy, public ceremonies and parades, and, in Weberian terms, a charismatic leader. But, as Harold Lasswell has noted, power can also be fully displayed through new architecture and imposing buildings.¹ In the past, politicians created and used new edifices and novel urban space to assert their authority and affirm their legitimacy to rule. The most widely known modern examples of power manifested as architecture may be the grandiose building programs initiated by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Stalin’s 1935 General Plan for the...

  9. II. Celebrations

    • 3. Yangge: The Dance of Revolution
      (pp. 75-91)

      Unlike the Bolsheviks, who had little experience with political art forms at the time of the October Revolution of 1917, the Chinese Communists, even before they seized power in 1949, had skillfully employed popular art media in effective propaganda campaigns among the mostly illiterate peasant inhabitants of rural China. Prominent among these art media was rural yangge dance, which was actively promoted by the Communists during the Yan’an era.¹ Yangge became an even more conspicuous presence in the early days of the Communist takeover; the dance became synonymous with the Chinese Communist Revolution and its eventual success, and the new...

    • 4. Parades
      (pp. 92-108)

      On the morning of February 3, 1949, three days after the seizure of Beiping, the People’s Liberation Army marched into the fabled city with great fanfare, signaling an official changeover of power and the beginning of a new era in modern Chinese history. Commanders Lin Biao (1907–71) and Luo Ronghuan (1902–63), positioned atop Zhengyang Gate, inspected the troops as they passed through the gate; the troops then immediately turned eastward into the heart of the legation quarter (Dongjiaominxiang), and then moved on to other parts of the city. Again, the American Fulbright scholar Derk Bodde has provided a...

  10. III. History

    • 5. The Red Line: The Museum of the Chinese Revolution
      (pp. 111-126)

      Wang Yeqiu (1909–87), a literary historian and devoted Communist, was jubilant when, on January 31, 1949, Communist troops, after a two-month campaign of military encirclement, finally occupied Beiping. Wang was concerned, however, that the Guomindang would destroy much of the trappings of the Chinese Communist Party as they retreated. He was particularly anxious that an important historical artifact would be lost: the scaffold used by warlord Zhang Zuolin (1875–1928) to execute by hanging Li Dazhao (1899–1927), cofounder of the CCP. “The scaffold was uppermost in my mind when I entered Beiping. I was determined to recover it...

    • 6. Oil Paintings and History
      (pp. 127-152)

      “I did not produce a single painting in my entire life that met my expectations of what I most wanted to create,” the celebrated painter Dong Xiwen reportedly lamented on his deathbed.¹ Dong may not have produced the dream piece that he would truly cherish, but he did create, albeit unwillingly, a deeply controversial work of art in his 1953 oil painting, The Founding Ceremony of the Nation (Kaiguo dadian) (figures 20 and 21), for it epitomizes the tension between art and politics in the People’s Republic. In this famous piece, Dong portrays Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square on October...

  11. IV. Visual Images

    • 7. Devils in the Drawings
      (pp. 155-181)

      On July 2, 1949, the All-China Congress of Writers and Artists was held in Beiping. The conference, reminiscent of the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, was orchestrated by the CCP to emphasize the importance of literature and art in nation building under socialism. But for the CCP the congress had an even more immediate goal: rallying the support of writers and artists for the impending founding of the People’s Republic on October 1 and mapping out a cultural strategy for building a new socialist nation. With 753 noted writers and artists in attendance, the meeting was a truly...

    • 8. New Year Prints and Peasant Resistance
      (pp. 182-210)

      On November 26, 1949, less than two months after the founding of the People’s Republic, the Ministry of Culture issued a directive to artists and writers about the importance and possible use in a new era of nianhua (New Year prints), a simple and inexpensive Chinese folk medium used to decorate homes in celebration of the New Year:

      Nianhua are one of the most popular types of Chinese folk art. Under the feudal rule in the past, it was employed as a vehicle to spread archaic ideas. After Chairman Mao delivered his “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and...

  12. V. Commemoration

    • 9. The Cult of the Red Martyr
      (pp. 213-234)

      Zhang Side (1915–44), a young peasant Red Army soldier who was a veteran of the Long March and once served as Mao Zedong’s personal guard, was killed on September 5, 1944, when a charcoal-producing kiln suddenly collapsed in northern Shaanxi province. Shortly thereafter Mao delivered a famous eulogy, “Serve the People,” which paid an emotional tribute to the dead soldier:

      All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien [Sima Qian] said, “Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.”. ....

    • 10. The Monument to the People’s Heroes
      (pp. 235-256)

      The Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square was one of the most important new political symbols created in the early days of the People’s Republic (figure 62). The huge granite obelisk, situated along Beijing’s most sacred central north-south axis, commands the vast and austere square—the ritual center of China’s capital—not only by its imposing presence but also by its centrality.¹ On the surface, the monument was constructed to commemorate those who had sacrificed their lives for the building of a new Communist state, echoing what Philippe Ariès once argued, “Without a monument to the dead, the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 257-268)

    The story of the Chinese Communists’ consolidation of power in the first decade of the People’s Republic is a vast, complex tale. In this book I have examined the CCP’s creation and reinvention of myriad political-cultural forms intended to reshape China in terms of new shared values and collective visions. Emphasizing the close interaction between politics and culture, I have argued that Mao and his senior Party members created a new political culture infused with a nationalistic ethos that helped cement their grip on power.

    Running through these political-cultural forms are three interrelated themes: Soviet influence, nationalistic appeals, and the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 269-306)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 307-312)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-340)
  17. Index
    (pp. 341-352)