China’s role on the world stage is something which preoccupies many in the West, not least because of the economic power it holds. There is perhaps a common belief that it is a unified country but modern China is far more complex and although those living in the newly-industrialised urban centres may share increasingly similar outlooks, there are still vast differences between the regions.
In 2013, the president Xi Jingping launched a campaign called China Dream which aimed to create a sense of harmony across the country. The posters for this campaign have been a common sight around public spaces – but now they are being shown in the UK for the first time at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre.
The carefully-curated exhibition, entitled Let the Chinese Dream Fly, features a selection of facsimile posters from the campaign. Produced by a collective of artists, they draw on folk art techniques from around China, including brush painting, paper cuts and woodblock prints as well as traditional poems and symbolism.
But while these posters may have been influenced by regional cultures, the themes contained within them are defiantly universal, upholding Confucian ideals of peace, harmony, respect for elders and auspiciousness (good fortune). They are also displayed across the country as a way of promoting cohesion between the different regions and an overall sense of patriotism.
Previous publicity drives run by the Communist Party, notably those of the 1950s and ‘70s, have focussed on the party and the workers. This one, however, invokes a more general moral code by which people should live. And unlike those campaigns of yesteryear there is also an awareness that this one will be viewed not just by the people of China, but around the world including the western media and members of the Chinese diaspora. Of course, this means that it will also come under more scrutiny – but the resulting image is one of a bold, unified China which commands respect.
Despite these posters being a product of the state, the exhibition itself is not partisan. Some of the more politically-charged pieces have been left out and this is as much about cultural identity, design and aesthetics as politics. Viewers will instead come to their own conclusions about what this campaign says about modern China, bringing with them their own world and political views.
Let the Chinese Dream Fly is on at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre (Wallner Gallery) until 22nd February. For more details visit Lakeside’s website.