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Socialist China’s New Exhibitions: Rethinking Class, Material Culture, and Propaganda

Colloquium | September 28 | 4-6 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

Denise Y. Ho, Assistant Professor of twentieth-century Chinese History, Yale University

Wen-hsin Yeh, Professor, Department of History, UC Berkeley

Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)

This talk examines the origins and Mao-era elaborations on “new exhibitions” in socialist China, the practice of displaying personal possessions as a way to articulate meanings of class in both “old China” and “new China.” During the Socialist Education Movement, “class education exhibitions” linked material objects to class status, arguing for the persistence of class and the need for “continuous revolution.” When the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, Red Guards created exhibitions from the confiscated materials of the “house search.” Taken together, these two kinds of exhibitions demonstrate the role of material culture in political propaganda. The two case studies, part of the recent book Curating Revolution: Politics on Display in Mao’s China (Cambridge, 2018), suggest that the exhibitionary culture of the Mao era taught individuals how to participate in its political campaigns.