Communism is known for its propaganda. China is known for its propaganda. While propaganda is subtler in today’s time utilizing platforms like YouTube (Ironically banned within China…thus propaganda for the English-speaking world) and public-school textbooks it is still a large part of Chinese culture. Propaganda communicates China’s domestic and international pursuits and relations while helping to solidify a Chinese Identity. When I found out there was a propaganda museum in Shanghai, I was eager to check it out.
Imagine a museum in your head. Is it grand like the MET? Artistic like the Louvre? Or Is it small and quaint like an artist museum in Cape Cod? The Shanghai Propaganda Museum is none of these. For being one of the most visited attractions in Shanghai I was expecting something similar to the MET or Louvre but what I found shocked me.
When I got out of the Didi (China’s Uber), I was confused. Why was I standing in front of an apartment complex in a strictly residential area of Shanghai? I double checked my phone and the address of the museum to make sure everything lined up, it did. Being such a popular spot, I thought I would wonder around the area and that on a Saturday afternoon, I would definitely see others going to or from the museum. I did not. I walked a few blocks right, left, up, down, of my drop off but nothing. I was about to give up and retire to a coffee shop when I saw two people with a DSLR camera around their neck. Tourists!
I watched as these people walked passed the guarded entrance of the apartment complex and disappear. I thought that they must be living there, why else would the guards let them by? As a last attempt I walked over to the guards and showed a picture of the propaganda museum and utilized some very conversational Chinese. Nali? Nali? Where? Where? I was handed a small business card and pointed deeper into the apartment complex.
After walking through the complex, following the rudimentary red line on the business card I arrived at “Building B.” The museum? I stood outside for while not wanting to just walk into some random apartment building. Finally, I saw a small family leave the building with DSLR cameras. More tourists! I entered the building and saw a small sign that said, “Shanghai Propaganda Museum This Way” over a staircase leading to the basement. This had to be a joke. I am in a random apartment complex, in a random building and now I am supposed to believe this museum is in the basement? It was like a bad plot from a horror movie. As I descended the stairs, I thought this is it, I am going to die in this dimly lit staircase in the middle of nowhere. I finally got to the bottom of the stair case, basement level 3, I saw the similar eerie sign, “Shanghai Propaganda Museum This Way” pointing down a long hallway.
After going down this hallway and continuing in the labyrinth of death, I finally reached the “museum.” I paid a woman who seemed half asleep 50 yuan and entered into a room smaller than some dorms at NYU NYC. Lining the walls were posters on top of posters of Chinese propaganda. Laid out in chronological order starting with 1900’s all the way to 1980’s. Many posters depicted the importance of communism and Russian relations and simultaneously the destruction of English, American, and Japanese forces. I thought that some of the most interesting work were posters that supported the Civil Rights Movement in the US.
I think this museum conveys a lot about the underworking of China’s political beliefs in the past and now. First thing, this privately-operated museum in a basement of an apartment building definitely is not government sponsored. Why? Yet all of the art work in there is government made. Since China has demonstrated itself as a world player, I think it has to be careful in how it displays itself especially in Western relations. A museum like this would not go over well. I see this museum representing the rich communistic beliefs of China and its past all – hidden away from the world’s eye as not to tarnish the current facade of China. Interestingly, the support of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, I think represents China’s interests at the time to have America implode onto itself. In a way, China wanted to fuel the fire not actually support equity between races.