Film by Ben Graville
Quotations of Chairman Mao (part 1)
As I landed in Shanghai, China I bought a copy of Quotations of Chairman Mao (the world’s second most published book after the bible) and started to read and photograph what I saw of new China.
A misinformed western perception of the east and China was changing after a couple of days in Shanghai. As I walked around an upmarket area I saw a young western nanny pushing a Chinese baby towards a creche, and then went into a nightclub where two Europeans danced half naked for the crowd of young Chinese shanghai residents, or the advert showing cruises on a boat where westerners would serve you lunch and dinner and were at your beck and call. I had just left the Propaganda Museum when I saw the western nanny and had seen all the images associated with their quest to infuse a population of 600 million “poor and blank” Chinese to work for the state and communism. I saw the image of land workers walking triumphantly from the fields and fat rich American imperialists suppressing African Americans with beatings and low wages to the huge prints of the Chinese army bearing down on evil looking enemy soldiers. These were images I saw as a child often with a mocking description of the propaganda at hand. It was refreshing if unrealistic to see male and female land workers walking with purpose or pride and a belief after a day toiling on a collective farm.
Growing up in England I never heard anyone say anything positive about the country I lived in, other than the heroic history of war and a royal family and the upper class who were for some reason better than other people. There was nothing positive about workers and the importance of people. All I saw was contempt from the state who had and still has a determination to destroy what little power the people have. It wasn’t until the 1990s that I heard peoples opinion change and I heard people talk positively about England: by then workers unions and rights were virtually destroyed and the country had been sold.
The myth of China persists both in the country and outside, with a population of 1.397 billion (2016) and suppressed information, and the great fire wall of China not allowing western web sites and news services, it’s hard to understand what China really is. There are clues – it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, poor human rights and seeing adverts in Shanghai for the prevention of loneliness in the elderly, the push towards a burgeoning middle class has fragmented society to the haves and have nots. The cultural change from the early nineties economically has created bustling cities with never ending adverts of glossy people with expensive products and a nightlife to match with clubs, bars and restaurants open all night from cities that had very little to offer after six in the evening thirty years ago.
A generation growing up under the single child policy (1979-2015) has seen a more independent youth growing up with an attention overload from parents and grandparents, whose interests in western culture and African American culture has made electronic dance music and hip hop fuel a desire for change, increasing debt amongst the youth, and with a taste for western designs, it’s a sort of boom and bust with protectionism. And how does China’s youth become creative if you are not able to question your surroundings and authority? This is why China is the best in the world at replicating products and manufacturing. Drive through a city and see all its hundreds of factories which supplies 60% of the worlds Christmas decorations, or a town where there is a sea of towers where they test the newly produced elevators that supply the thousands of high rise apartment buildings, and it gives an idea of the modern collectivism in China of long hours and poor wages for the uneducated and low skilled which fuels the middle class and elite. This seems to be the new capitalist mantra of China, the exact same the west has peddled for time and desperately holds on to.
Book inserts, Quotations of Chairman Mao (1966)
Sound recordings were made of street musicians in Beijing, Shanghai and Qingdao