Signs of the Times: The Chinese Dream In Posters – Part II

上海 Shanghai



Yang Peiming is the director of the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center. With about 6,000 original pieces, he is the world’s top collector of 20th century Chinese Communist propaganda. He chatted with Barbarian Subject about the China Dream posters.

“We are not interested in the China Dream posters here” he said. “Everything is computer work now. We are more interested in the historical poster art.” I showed him some photos of the posters in Beijing and he said “ah yes, yes, this is the style of Feng Zikai.” We walked over to a bookshelf and he pulled out a book of prints by Feng and leafed through it. He knew exactly which posters were being used and pointed them out.

I asked him how he defines the “Chinese Dream” and he gave a few thoughts, switching back and forth between English and Chinese, “what is a dream? It’s something we can’t see. Chinese kings and emperors have always made sayings and things like this, but actually, we don’t say ‘dream.’ I think this is 西方过来的 (from the West) like the American Dream. But actually, we don’t use dream like this.” He pulled out another book of prints and opened a page with a Mao-era poster on it. There were people marching over a bridge with the caption “Communism is Heaven and the People’s Commune is the Bridge.” Mr. Yang smiled and said, “see? it’s the same thing. They say these things about things and places that aren’t real.”


I asked, “so would you say the difference between now and then is that back then, the posters were projecting images and ideas onto you, but now with the China Dream, you are supposed to project whatever you want onto them.” He replied “yes I think so.”

Just as the word 宣传xuanchuan can be translated as ‘publicity’ or ‘propaganda’, and accordingly be assigned the desired connotation, 中国梦zhongguomeng is similarly flexible. If you choose “China Dream,” the direct translation, the connotation feels more nationalistic and perhaps vaguely challenging. “Chinese Dream” sounds more idealistic, friendly and widely aspirational, as if to say the Chinese people are just striving for the things we all want. 中华人民梦, specifically “the Chinese people’s dream,” is also used on some posters. The English text on the posters uses both translations, and there’s something almost genius in that. It’s just nationalistic enough for the Chinese audience, and just familiar enough for the foreign, especially Western audience. This, to me, constitutes outstanding modern propaganda – even if the graphics suck compared to the old stuff.

Mr. Yang talked some more about exhibits abroad in the months ahead and his growing collection of Dazibao, one of which he was an author of once upon a time. He didn’t say about whom, though. When I asked if he planned to add any “Chinese Dream” posters to his collection, he mad a face like he just walked into the Shanghai World Expo of Stinky Tofu and shook his head, “no, no, no, no. The modern artists are too wild. Maybe someone else can collect them, but I’m not too keen on modern politics.”

And with that, some Shanghai posters


man looking back street

58“Collectively build the Chinese Dream. Together make a civilized city. You and I join hands to establish a civilized city district.”


57The Bund. 外滩.

63The Bund. 外滩.

55Corner of East Second Zhong Shan Road and Xinkaihe Road. 中山东二路与新开河路交汇.

54Corner of East Second Zhong Shan Road and Xinkaihe Road. 中山东二路与新开河路交汇.

56Corner of East Second Zhong Shan Road and Xinkaihe Road. 中山东二路与新开河路交汇.

61“Harmony as the base for pursuing brilliance.” East Second Zhong Shan Road, the Bund. 外滩, 中山东二路.

59East Second Zhong Shan Road, the Bund. 外滩, 中山东二路.

60East Second Zhong Shan Road, the Bund. 外滩, 中山东二路.

51Xinkaihe Road. 新开河路.

52“China Dream. Golden dream.” Xinkaihe Road. 新开河路.

53“China Dream. Golden dream.” Xinkaihe Road. 新开河路.


43Fujian Middle Street and East Yan’an Road. 福建中路与延安东路.

44Fujian Middle Street and Beihai Road. 福建中路与北海路.

46Fujian Middle Street and Beihai Road. 福建中路与北海路.

45Fujian Middle Street and Beihai Road. 福建中路与北海路.

47Intersection of Henan Middle Road and East Yan’an Road. 河南中路与延安东路交汇.




The characters the boy is climbing on mean “civilized” here. They can also mean “civilization,” so he is climbing on civilization.

1“Collectively build the Chinese Dream.” Near Sun Yat Sen’s former residence. 孙中山居的附近.

2“Take pleasure in helping others.”





7Lovers on the Bund. 情人在外滩.

9The Bund. 外滩.

10“China Dream. China is delighted.”

11Shanghai Worker’s Cultural Palace, Tibet Road. 西藏路, 上海工人文化宫.

39Shanghai Worker’s Cultural Palace, Tibet Road. 西藏路, 上海工人文化宫.


40Tibet Road. “Collectively build the Chinese Dream. Labor is the most glorious.”


27Ideal family; Child, parents, grandparents.


28“Two heads are better than one.” (A more literal translation is something like “having two people of one heart pays well.”)


24Pudong, Dongfang Road. Left sign, “accumulate merit by doing good deeds. Harvest auspiciousness. Gather small virtues, achieve great character.” Right sign, “Chinese Dream. My dream. Be bold in sculpting dreams. Be diligent in realizing your dream.”



17No wonder Mr. Yang’s not collecting these. “China Dream. My Dream. [China realizes the dream. Every household is blessed.]”


15Dongfang Road and Weifang Road. “China Dream. My Dream. Civilized city district. Abide by virtue, observe etiquette.” 东方路与潍坊路.

25Pudong, Dongfang Road. “The days of us dream chasers lives will have much sweetness.” 浦东东方路.

14Pudong, Dongfang Road. “Globe, there’s only one. Protecting the environment starts with me.” 浦东东方路.

13Pudong, near Jinmao Tower. 浦东金茂大夏的附近.

12Pudong, near Jinmao Tower. 浦东金茂大夏的附近.

32South Tibet Road at People’s Square. 西藏南路, 人民广场.

30South Tibet Road at People’s Square. 西藏南路, 人民广场.

29South Tibet Road at People’s Square. 西藏南路, 人民广场.

33People’s Square subway. 人民广场地铁站.

34People’s Square subway station. 人民广场地铁站.

37Shanghai Museum – Even the grass is in on it. 上海博物馆.

38The parking signs, too.

35Zhong Shan Park bus terminal. 中山公园枢纽站.

8East Nanjing Road. 南京东路.

36Zhong Shan Station. Named after Sun Zhongshan, aka Sun Yat Sen.

boy peeing next to signYes, that boy is doing what you think he’s doing.


2 thoughts on “Signs of the Times: The Chinese Dream In Posters – Part II

  1. Your articles are really great Chris, you’re putting together a really good body of work. It’s good you’re documenting those posters, I wonder if it’s being done anywhere else. Besides being interesting historically, some them are really beautiful.

    I’m reading a new book on Cixi the last empress and it’s turning history on its head. It’s written by Jung Chang who has done deep research, it’s fascinating – turns out pretty much everything we know about her is wrong.

    Talk soon! Keep up the great work

    • Thanks! There are lots of things written about this campaign but I haven’t seen any big photo collections of the posters. The majority of them are up around construction sites, so I thought it would be interesting to be able to look at some of these in the coming years and decades to see what buildings and streets are gone and what’s been built. And, we can see how the fashions and cars on the road and whatnot will change. Some of them are really beautiful and worth seeing just for that. Some of them are already gone!

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