China’s pop culture, especially at grassroots level, has been undergoing a retro movement for quite some time. Arts and everyday objects of the 50s to the early 80s have been resurrected and reinvented with modern twists. This time, China’s always creative netizens are trying to give new life to a very special art/propaganda form: red posters.
In the poster above where factory workers were in a group exercise aiming to boost productivity, the new header reads: “Wanna a hug.” In another one below where two serious-looking Red Army soldiers holding a grenade in hands, the header reads: “Ladies, we are not available for dating.”
The Cultural Revolution remains such a taboo topic in China that sometimes one feels as if it never happened. Younger generation’s knowledge of this dark era of modern China’s history is very limited given the intentional omission and sugar-coating throughout formal education. But that doesn’t mean they won’t actively seek out and celebrate bits of this period as a key phase that leads to what China has become today.
The feeling is complicated. There is a certain degree of nostalgia of an era of “innocence” when money and aggression were not the sole drivers of everything, and when there were more trust and kindness among people. There are also loads of sarcasm, to ridicule the horror and insanity of that period.
Products like revolution-themed mouse pads, purses, T-shirts and mugs can be found in almost every small boutique store on hippie streets of Beijing, Shanghai or other cities. The current meme of reinventing red propaganda posters is part of this sub-culture of retro arts. Undeniably, these posters, with distinctive characteristics of “communist” China, have their own very unique aesthetics.
Not everybody is happy about the meme. Some think that history, especially a piece of history like the Cultural Revolution, shouldn’t be treated lightly. “Low and shameful!” One netizen commented at the posters. “It’s disrespectful to the sufferings of older generations who lived through that period.” Other weighed in.
For others, however, to ridicule is to reflect, in a way that doesn’t offend the official gag on the topic. And most importantly, it’s fun.
“Support homosexuality. Oppose discrimination.”
“Look for husbands!”
“Too expensive. I’ll pass.”
“Help me to take a look at what time is it?”
“No dating. Uncle, don’t hit on us.”
“Sisters, let’s get that bitch!”