Chinese Propaganda Posters in Mao's Patriotic Health Movements: From Four Pests to SARS Open Access

Holst, Abigail Li (2016)

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Chinese propaganda posters from the Mao era (1949-76) serve as a window into the politics of public health and the history of medicine. Throughout the 20th century, propaganda posters functioned as powerful tools to explain ideological and scientific concepts to a largely illiterate population in mainland China. In 1958, Mao Zedong launched the "four pests" campaign, a hygiene campaign that mobilized the masses to exterminate the country's "four evils:" rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. The campaign was one of China's first "Patriotic Health Movements" that took place during the Great Leap Forward (1958-62), when propaganda poster production reached its heyday. While there is extensive literature on printed materials from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), there is a dearth of scholarship on propaganda from the "four pests" campaign. In my research, I analyzed the visual, rhetorical, and ideological elements in propaganda posters from the "four pests" campaign. I also identified the continuities and discontinuities in these elements in propaganda posters used prior to and following the "four pests" campaign (i.e., the 1952 Anti-Germ Warfare Incident, Barefoot Doctors Programme, and 2003 SARS outbreak). To this end, I developed three schema to highlight the posters' salient characteristics: Chinese New Year prints ( nianhua ), the militarization of pest control and disease prevention, and children and women as political messengers. My findings indicate that these posters not only disseminated health-related information, but also channelled political, nationalistic, and militaristic rhetoric, ideology, and imagery to assemble the masses and promote sociopolitical change. These observations showcase the enduring legacy of Maoist public health campaigns and the power of propaganda as an instrument for mass mobilization and didacticism.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction 1

1.1: The Great Leap Forward and the "Four Pests" Campaign 1

1.2: Visual Propaganda in China 5

1.3: "Linguistic Engineering" Under the Chinese Communist Party 10

Chapter Two: Methodology 18

2.1: Analytical Approach 18

2.2: Primary and Secondary Sources 19

Chapter Three: The "Four Pests" Campaign: A Typology of Pest Extermination Propaganda 23

3.1: Nianhua: Chinese New Year Prints 23

3.2: The Militarization of Pest Control and Disease Eradication 44

3.3: Children and Women as Political Messengers 61

Chapter Four: Continuities Prior to and Following the "Four Pests" Campaign 82

4.1: The Anti-Germ Warfare Incident of 1952 and the Birth of the ‘Patriotic Health Movement' 82

4.2: The Barefoot Doctors Programme 97

4.3: The 2003 SARS Outbreak 110

Chapter Five: Conclusion 125

Bibliography 131

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