Iron Women, Foxy Ladies II
The sole exception to the conventional use of female beauty for advertising purposes seems to have been the Cultural Revolution period. During this high tide of puritanism cloaked in a desire for revolutionary purity, only prototypical-masculinized women were permissible. As one of the outcomes of the comprehensive ideology of equality that was adhered to during those days, politics and society considered expressions of femininity as examples of bourgeois behavior and looked down on them. The prevailing moralistic attitude aimed to repress anything that pertained to sexuality and the female body. Women were supposed to work, dress and look like men in clothing that was not supposed to reveal any female curves. With their sturdy features, robust faces and shining eyes, they denoted revolutionary commitment, youth, strength and determination. They were indeed creators and agents of history.
While defining and presenting the broad masses of workers, peasants and soldiers as the proletarian triumvirate that bolstered PRC-society after 1949, this left the question where women would fit in this broader scheme. After all, China could boast of female workers, peasants as well as soldiers. Posters featuring the revolutionary troika more often than not tended to use male soldiers and workers, with the position of the peasant being taken in by a woman. The theme of the female peasant reverberated with traditional modes of thinking where women functioned as symbols for fertility and fecundity. Without explicitly stressing this aspect, the hope for plentiful harvests thus was included in posters featuring female peasants as well.
On the other hand, many campaigns were designed to address issues that were specific to the liberation of women, or the improvements in their political and social positions, and relevant visual materials accompanied these. Most of the posters designed to publicize the population policy were directed at women. Posters served an explicit educational function as well, showing women new approaches to, and techniques for the various tasks for which they had become responsible. Women frequently appeared as Party secretaries and heads of study groups. But the appearance of women in cadre-functions remained an exception. On higher and even the highest levels of political and administrative power, women were even less visible. Only three women made it to leadership positions at the highest levels, and thus were included in propaganda posters, although for completely different reasons. They were Song Qingling, Jiang Qing and Deng Yingchao.
In general, gender boundaries have been redrawn in the 1980s, a process which has continued ever since. In the rapidly changing urban society where cosmetic surgery and liposculpture have become an indispensable part of daily life, and where cellular phones and Gucci bags strive for attention and emulation, it made no sense to continue showing a social environment where erst-while politically correct blue, grey or black uni-sex 'Mao-suits', chopped hairdo's and ponytails predominated. These accoutrements of the past have been traded in for more feminine dresses, spiked heels and hot-pants and for hairdo's that are permed or styled in fanciful ways. Women started to use eyeliner, lipstick, and rouge and the expenditure on clothing, accessories, cosmetics and hair styling exploded.
It seems safe to say that the most influential role models for today's women are no longer presented by posters. Instead, these can be found in the many lifestyle magazines that have proliferated since the late 1990s. As a result, the cheerful, muscular farm girl that was all over the publications in Maoist China has made way for the image of the strong, yet elegant educated career woman that dominates their pages. Those living in the countryside who might have less access to the latest lifestyle journals are well-served by the endless stream of television commercials hammering home the latest dictates in style.
More posters featuring women:
Julia F. Andrews & Kuiyi Shen, "The New Chinese Woman and Lifestyle Magazine in the Late 1990s", Perry Link, Richard P. Madsen, Paul G. Pickowicz (eds), Popular China - Unofficial Culture in a Globalizing Society (Lanham, etc.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002)
John Bayne, "Nostalgia and Aspiration in Popular Chinese Culture: Urban Calendar Perspectives", Bulletin of the British Association for China Studies 1997
Tina Mai Chen, "Proletarian White and Working Bodies in Mao's China, positions vol. 11, no. 2 (Fall 2003), pp. 361-393
Sherman Cochran, Big Business in China: Sino-Foreign Rivalry in the Cigarette Industry, 1890-1930 (Harvard Studies in Business History, 33) (Cambridge MASS, etc.: Harvard University Press, 1980)
Sherman Cochran, "Transnational Origins of Advertising in Early Twentieth-Century China", Sherman Cochran (ed.), Inventing Nanjing Road: Commercial Culture in Shanghai, 1900-1945 (Cornell East Asia, No. 103) (Cornell East Asia Series) (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series No. 103, 1999)
Harriet Evans, "'Comrade Sisters': Gendered Bodies and Spaces", Harriet Evans & Stephanie Donald (eds), Picturing Power in the People's Republic of China - Posters of the Cultural Revolution (Markham, etc.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999)
Harriet Evans, "Marketing Femininity: Images of the Modern Chinese Woman", Timothy B. Weston and Lionel M. Jensen (eds), China beyond the Headlines (Lanham, etc.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000), pp. 217-244
Ellen Johnston Laing, Selling Happiness - Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004)
Anchee Min, "The Girl in the Poster", Anchee Min et al., Chinese Propaganda Posters: From the Collection of Michael Wolf (Taschen, 2003)
Claire Roberts (ed.), Evolution & Revolution - Chinese Dress 1700s-1990s (Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, 2002)
Cheuk Pak Tong, "A History of Calendar Posters", Ng Chun Bong et al., Chinese Woman and Modernity - Calendar Posters of the 1910s-1930s (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing [H.K.] Co., 1996)
Yi Bin et al. (eds), Lao Shanghai guanggao [Advertisement of the Old Time Of Shanghai (sic)] (Shanghai: Shanghai huabao chubanshe, 1996)
Zhang Yanfeng, "Lao yuefenpai guanggaohua" [Old Calendar Advertisements Posters], Hansheng zazhi [Echo Magazine], Nos 61 and 62 (Taipei, January-February 1994)