AP®︎/College Art History
- Terracotta Warriors from the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor of China
- Terra cotta warriors from the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (UNESCO/TBS)
- Funeral banner of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui)
- Longmen caves, Luoyang
- Longmen Grottoes (UNESCO/NHK)
- Neo-Confucianism & Fan Kuan, Travelers by Streams and Mountains
- The David Vases
- The David Vases (Chinese porcelain)
- Chinese porcelain: production and export
- Chinese porcelain: decoration
- The Forbidden City
- The Forbidden City
- Liu Chunhua, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan
Liu Chunhua, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan
By Dr. Kristen Loring Brennan
Liu Chunhua, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan, 1967, oil on canvas, 220 x 180 cm
Striding atop a mountain peak wearing a look of determination on his face, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan shows a young ready to weather any storm. In picturing a moment in history, Liu Chunhua celebrated Chairman Mao (then in his seventies) and his longstanding commitment to Communist Party ideals. Painted in 1967 at the dawn of the , this work uses socialist realism to portray Chairman Mao as a revolutionary leader committed to championing the common people.
Li Keran, Ten Thousand Crimson Hills, 1964, hanging scroll, ink and color on paper (collection of the artist’s family, Beijing)
Socialist realism and Mao paintings
During the Cultural Revolution, artists focused on creating portraits of Mao, or “Mao paintings,” which represented Mao’s effort to regain his hold after bitter political struggles within the party. With the leadership of Mao’s last wife, , the movement aimed to quell criticisms of Mao in drama, literature, and the visual arts. More broadly, it aimed to correct political fallout from the disasters of the 1950s, especially the widespread famine and deaths that resulted from the , and reinvigorate Communist ideology in general. In the years that followed, Mao would lead the country through a decade of violent class struggles aimed at purging traditional customs and capitalism from Chinese society.
In the early years of the Cultural Revolution, artists such as Liu Chunhua turned to a style known as socialist realism for creating portraits of Mao Zedong. Socialist realism was introduced to China in the 1950s in order to address the lives of the working class. Suitable for propaganda, socialist realism aimed for clear, intelligible subjects and emotionally moving themes. Subjects often included peasants, soldiers, and workers—all of whom represented the central concern of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. Modeled after works in the Soviet Union, paintings in this style were rendered in oil on canvas. They notably departed from Chinese hanging scrolls in ink and paper, such as Li Keran’s Ten Thousand Crimson Hills, painted in 1964.
Standardized by the , Mao paintings typically pictured the Chinese leader in an idealized fashion, as a luminous presence at the center of the composition. Unlike Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan, portraits usually depicted Mao among the people, such as strolling through lush fields alongside smiling peasants.
Map showing Anyuan within Jiangxi province in China (underlying map © Google)
The Anyuan Miners’ Strike of 1922
Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan presents a critical moment in Chinese Communist Party history: Mao marching toward the coal mines of Anyuan, Jiangxi province in south-central China, where he was instrumental in organizing a nonviolent strike of thirteen thousand miners and railway workers. Occurring only a year after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, the Anyuan Miners’ Strike of 1922 was a defining moment for the Chinese Communist Party because the miners represented the suffering of the masses at the heart of the revolutionary cause. Many of the miners enlisted as soldiers in the , intent on following the young Mao toward revolution.
Detail of Chairman Mao, Liu Chunhua, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan, 1967, oil on canvas, 220 x 180 cm
Painting nearly half a century after the Anyuan Miners’ Strike, Liu Chunhua created Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan for a national exhibition. Liu Chunhua was a member of the Red Guard, or the group of radical youth whose mission was to attack the “four olds” (customs, habits, culture, and thinking). To create this painting, he studied old photographs of Mao and visited Anyuan to interview workers for visual veracity. Based on his findings, he rendered Mao wearing a traditional Chinese gown rather than Western attire, which is more commonly seen in portraits of Mao created during the Cultural Revolution. The cool color tonalities of Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan also differ from other Mao paintings, which tended toward warm tones with clear, blue skies, such as Chen Yanning’s Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside. Others often featured vibrant red accents—red being the color of revolution. Instead, Liu Chunhua opted for deep blue and purple hues to capture Mao’s determination as he marched to address the plight of those suffering.
From the painting by Chen Yanning, Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside, 1972, oil on canvas, 172 x 295 cm (Sigg Collection)
In Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan, Liu Chunhua adapted Chinese landscape conventions to a new style and purpose—an evocative portrayal that suggested that Mao was capable of leading the country toward revolution. He pictured his subject emerging atop a mountain with clouds of mist below. In China, landscapes such as this often evoked immortal realms, or extraordinary sites invested with the misty vapors of the mountain. However, a telephone pole is discernible in the lower left corner of the composition, and water cascades from a dam in the right—hints of modernity within the ethereal landscape. With an umbrella tucked beneath one arm and the other hand clenched into a fist, and wearing windswept robes, Mao appears superhuman, yet also practical and charismatic.
Detail of telephone pole and dam, Liu Chunhua, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan, 1967, oil on canvas, 220 x 180 cm
As a prominent icon in the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao en Route to Anyuan celebrated the grassroots nature of revolutionary history and cultivated devotion to Mao during a tumultuous time. As a brilliant example of Chinese Communist Party propaganda, it was reportedly reproduced over nine hundred million times, and distributed widely in print, sculpture, and other media.
Read a Reframing Art History chapter about "Art in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–present."
Melissa Chiu and Zheng Shengtian, Art and China's Revolution (New York: Asia Society, 2008).
Elizabeth J. Perry, Anyuan Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).
Essay by Dr. Kristen Loring Brennan
Want to join the conversation?
- "...reproduced over nine hundred million times", eh? Was the goal to put a reproduction of the artwork in the hands of each and every living Chinese citizen?(11 votes)
- Not only that, but also to put them up in as many public places as possible. The idea was that through reinforced exposure to the ideas and virtues of the ruling government, their subjects would be more loyal.(13 votes)
- On the lower left side of the painting there is a telephone pole. Why do you think the artist put it there?(4 votes)
- It's a common feature in paintings of Chairman Mao, as in Chen Yanning's painting above. It associates him with the modernization of China. Look closely at the bottom right side of the painting and you also will see what appears to be a dam.(9 votes)
- What is the function of this image? What was it meant to do?(4 votes)
- According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chairman_Mao_en_route_to_Anyuan
This artwork served as propaganda during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). During the earlier years of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Chunhua turned to social realism for creating portraits of Mao Zedong. This method allowed for intelligible subjects and emotionally moving themes that targeted the working class. Chairman Mao aimed to regain his hold after political struggles within his party, and this work focused on the concern of Chairman Mao and the communist party as a way to show the people his goals.(4 votes)
- What is the full id for the chairman mao on the top of this page.(3 votes)
- What is Mao carrying in the painting?(2 votes)
- Appears to be a paper umbrella, such as those made in Mei-nung (a Hakka town in southern Taiwan) See pictures here: http://richmatheson.photoshelter.com/image/I0000tjvrqpksYyc(3 votes)
- How does it show a relationship between humans and nature.(2 votes)
- The painting shows a human being in a natural landscape. That's how it shows the relationship.(2 votes)
- why does it call custom habits culture and thinking the "four olds"(2 votes)
- The Chinese Communist Party, in trying to reform Chinese culture and society, loved to use lists. Six of this, eight of that, three of the other thing. In the political thought campaign described in this lesson, there were four things which the Chinese Communist Party wanted abolished. These were called the "four olds". To ascertain whether or not the party succeeded or failed, one need merely look at those four phenomena, and ask whether now, decades later, they still exist in China. My guess is that in these, as in many other things, the party failed.(2 votes)