History Writ Large: Big-character Posters, Red Logorrhoea and the Art of Words

Geremie R. Barmé


The starting point of this paper is the 1986 artwork of the then Xiamen-based artist Wu Shanzhuan, called ‘Red Humor’, which reworked references to big-character posters (dazi bao 大字报) and other Mao-era forms of political discourse, recalling the Cultural Revolution. It explains how Wu’s installation offered a provocative microcosm of the overwhelming mood engendered by a logocentric movement to ‘paint the nation red’ with word-images during the years 1966-1967. This discussion of the hyper-real use of the dazi bao during China’s Cultural Revolution era (c.1964-1978) allows us to probe into ‘the legacies of the word made image’ in modern China. The paper argues that, since the 1980s, Wu Shanzhuan has had many emulators and ‘avant-garde successors’, since we have seen multiple examples of parodic deconstructions of the cultural authority of the Chinese character (zi) in recent decades.

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