Reform, Revolutionary, Political and Resistance
Themes in Chinese Popular Prints, 1900-1940

By Ellen Johnston Laing

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 12, no. 2, pp.123-176

Although most popular print production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was destined for religious, decorative, journalistic or daily use purposes, a small number were deliberately contrived to convey specific social or political messages, proving that the value of using the popular print idiom for propaganda and political purposes was recognized and used long before the Communists in Yan’an turned to this method of reaching the people. The themes of the political prints introduced in this paper encompass the reform and revolutionary movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the downfall of the Qing imperial house in 1911-12 and the political uncertainties surrounding the early years of the new Republic, and finally, calls for resistance to Japanese incursions during the 1930s. This paper (1) identifies some of these political prints, (2) defines their political or social content, and (3) explains their artistic prototypes. It highlights what sorts of visual images and symbols were used in popular prints to promote various social, revolutionary or political causes and reveals that the world of the popular print business was fluid and multi-faceted, indeed, much more complicated and complex than has been assumed.