Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre

Viewing history as art at an inconspicuous gallery in Shanghai’s French Concession

By: By Skye Mayring

The Details

Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre

Tickets are approximately $3 per person, and the gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Visiting the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre — a hidden gem filled to the brim with rare Chinese propaganda posters dating from 1949-1979 — is like going on a covert mission. My group and I circled the west end of Shanghai’s French Concession in search of collector Pie Ming Yang’s elusive gallery, but there were no signs of any kind to assure us that we were, indeed, in the right spot. Instead, we stared, perplexed, at a dreary, gated apartment complex as our tour guide exchanged words with two security guards.

 One of the gallery’s propaganda posters from 1949 // (C) 2010 Shanghai propaganda Poster Art Centre_2

One of the gallery’s propaganda posters from 1949 // (C) 2010 Shanghai propaganda Poster Art Centre

“For you,” said a guard, while handing me a cryptic map the size of a business card. We followed the arrows on the map to building “B” and took the elevator down to the basement where the proprietor, Mr. Yang, and his treasured collection of somewhat controversial and under-appreciated art awaited us.

“When I began collecting propaganda posters in 1994, they were treated as rubbish [by others], and sent to the paper recycling factory,” said Yang. “I [found and] bought them from all over China but mainly from Shanghai, since it used to be the printing and publishing center for [the country].”

Yang has more than 5,000 pieces in his collection and gift shop, although not all of it is on display at the same time, mostly due to space issues. That which is exhibited, however, is fascinating and is further brought to light with Yang’s direct translations from Chinese characters to English phrases.

The literal translations are both insightful and, at times, startling: “Increasing output is a way of strengthening the power to defend our motherland” stated a 1951 pro-industrial poster. A more ominous poster circa 1950 shows a Herculean Chinese soldier as he steps over two diminutive, cartoonish Americans, with the caption: “Resist the U.S. and support Korea.”

“Our principle is to let the art tell the history,” said Yang. “Although we have had ups and downs in the recent past, a great number of artifacts survived as a scroll of our colorful history.”

In any event, Yang’s gallery is well worth a visit, and, finding it, as I discovered, is half the fun.

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