Long involved tracts are all very well, for those with too much unproductive time on their hands – writers, revolutionaries, politicians, and other rabble. But for those with plows to pull, lives to get on with, nothing gets the point across like a good slogan. While the ad industry has raised burning slogans into our brains to a horrific science (Winston tastes good…), government sloganeering is often a much vaguer enterprise, especially from those trying to get elected. “Yes we can,”? Can what?
From its inception, the PRC has made the slogan its chief mode of communication – posting, painting, and waving them with profusion in direct proportion to the number of people needed to get the message. A look at some of them over the past three-score-odd years proves an instructive, compact China policy study.
“Long live the invincible Marxism-Leninism and Stalin theory”—— carved on a monument behind the review stand at the 1954 May Day parade in Nanjing. Twenty five years later, the theory began looking a lot more vincible in China.
“Devote our faithfulness to the communist party”—— Nanjing teachers and intellectuals take pains to show how much they heart the party at a parade during the 1958 Anti-Rightist Movement. “Rightists” were those who condoned the twin evils of capitalism and class division. Chairman Mao launched the campaign to ensure such folk never plagued China again.
“Struggle to produce 10.7 million-tons of steel”—a steel workers’ procession brandishes China’s ambitious industrial goals at a Tiananmen Square National Day celebration. August, 1958 marked the inception of a nationwide scramble to modernize, a Great Leap Forward from a springboard of steel. The next two years were devoted to advancing China’s industrial strength at any cost. At staggering cost, as it turned out.
“The communal canteen is our home,”— the slogan hangs on the wall of a 1959 Wuxi cafeteria. With so much leaping forward to do, and outdated peasant thinking to banish, collective dining proved an efficient method of ensuring one was never far from the correct speech and actions of his work unit, or the concerned gaze of a cadre.
Forget Six Flags. In1963, the way to divert was at a Three Flags singing contest. Fervent choruses soared over blasting accordions to praise the Three Flags and their message: “The Great Path, the Great Leap Forward, and the Great People’s Commune.”
“Rural high school students: be communist-minded and vocationally proficient.”——in 1965, country students took the message to heart (except the two wise guys 2nd row right), many the first in their families to receive such advanced educations.
During that decade, Mao’s thoughts became instant slogans. “We should be modest and prudent, guard against arrogance and rashness, and serve the Chinese people heart and soul,” adorns a family photo taken in the early 1970s.
Factory workers brandish a banner – “Fully expose and condemn the awful crimes committed by the Gang of Four.” The Gang of Four were blamed for the most excessive turmoil that marked the latter stages of the Cultural Revolution, and retribution came swiftly at its conclusion. Jiang Qing, leader of the gang and Mao Zedong’s last wife as well as Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen still draw ignominy.
“Youth should be fully aware of the importance of their mission, for their motherland needs them, as do the people and the communist cause.” In 1977, after a ten-year hiatus from all education save Mao thought, Peking University resumed classes, and China the college entrance examination system.
“A household responsibility system benefits all,” reads the tractor-hauled slogan during 1984’s National Day Parade. Ironically, the responsibility system referred to had replaced the quota system, which had put such a strain on China’s rural economy. The new system, adopted in 1982, gave peasants drastically reduced quotas. The food they grew in excess could be sold on a free market, at unregulated prices.
Peking University students at the same National Day celebration hold a seemingly innocuous banner, reading “Xiaoping Nin Hao.” Ostensibly a friendly greeting to China’s leader Deng Xiaoping, the underlying message in such familiarity was that the people now regarded leaders as fellow humans, not gods.
“Bear fewer, better children for a happier life.” China’s one-child policy was introduced in 1978, to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems. Hugely controversial at the time, the policy continues to ramify through all aspects of Chinese society.
“Development is the top priority!” reads another rural wall. This slogan began appearing in 1992, taken directly from the mouth of Deng Xiaoping quote. It gave the mandate for an era of reform and explosive production unrivaled in history.
“Though we are very poor, our education shall not be; though we are in poverty, we shall never let the children suffer,” reads this slogan on a village wall in Henan province in the early 1990s. The early 90s marked a time of renewed emphasis on basic education in China, using slogans like this to remind villagers across the country.
“Harmonious Society” – four participants in the First People’s Sports Meeting pedal this slogan on April 30th, 2006. It was Hu Jintao’s chief contribution to the China Slogan Canon, and one of the most widely heard to this day, when creating a stable economic environment for China’s ongoing prosperity is mission critical. Marxist-Leninist paradise, not so much.