A lot of people know and love vintage Chinese revolution propaganda posters. Possibly the best collection can be found here in Shanghai. Such as this beautiful Red Guard girl:
Or this handsome worker:
And of course Chairman Mao, an almost god-like figure in this woodcut print:
Today there are still many colourful propaganda posters everywhere, and I’ve started sharing them via my Chinese Propaganda Instagram account.
I am fascinated by the utopian idea of a communist society, with the promise of a good life for all citizens. The China of today is hyper capitalist and its inhabitants far from equal, the state is only communist in name. The beautiful posters however remind us of the original ideals behind the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. Today’s posters show less marching and little red book waving, more children playing with their grandparents and happy minority people dancing together as one. One can dream..
In October my parents visited China. They are around 70 and have never travelled outside of Europe, apart from a trip to Canada to visit relatives. So, this is a big thing. I put a best-of-Yunnan programme together and get to experience China through the eyes of first-timers.
They had many preconceptions, some of them undoubtedly quite negative. Because they are old enough to remember Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the Cold War. This combined with current news about China being half and half about either human rights activists disappearing or serious environmental issues. Imagine their surprise at finding a hospitable and mostly quite cheerful people who are more than happy to show them around and help them during their journey through Yunnan. After three weeks of backpacking from Kunming to Dali, Xizhou, Jianshuan, Shaxi, Lijiang, Shangri-la and Beijing they go home with lots of stories but alas still not able to eat with chopsticks. I travel with them for a few days and enjoy the Autumn festival moon watching at Linden Centre. We even see a comet crashing to earth, surely an auspicious sign for the year ahead.
Another highlight is staying in Jianshuan. The owner is a friend who I met during a previous trip. She runs a boutique hotel in a beautifully restored historical Bai mansion. She makes my parents feel extra welcome by taking them along to a sky lantern event. Furthermore she surprises us by landing us in the middle of a huge dinner party at a woodcarving masters house and finally by inviting all of her family over to the hotel for beers. It is great to see my parents again after a year and a half away.
I visit home
In December I went to The Netherlands, a year and nine months after I left. I was excited but also a bit apprehensive about going home. Would it be very emotional? Would it be super cold? Would the Amsterdammers be extremely rude to me in traffic? All of my worries evaporate as soon as I am on the plane. I spend a week and a half catching up with friends in Amsterdam. Nothing much has changed, only my friends’ and siblings’ fast-growing children show that time doesn’t stand still. Everybody is busy with work, kids, projects.
In China I like looking at the West with Chinese binoculars. While I am in Amsterdam I enjoy the distance to reflect on China, and on my life in China. As happy as I am to be in Amsterdam I am just as happy to return ‘home’, to go back to China. I missed the excellent food and weather, I missed the friendly and curious smiles, I missed the social life on the street, I missed how cheap everything is, I missed the challenge and the daily discoveries of an exotic language and culture, I missed my emerging friendships with like-minded people. I liked talking about China to friends and family, and especially Yunnan and Kunming, which I am proud to call my home now.
Happy new year
I leave 2017 and enter the new year feeling grateful and optimistic. I am glad I decided to take this year-long time-out in China, instead of going straight home to my old life in Amsterdam. Today I feel a lot more positive about returning to Amsterdam than I did half a year ago when I was in deep emotional turmoil. The dust has settled, I am happy and focused and I see a lot of professional and personal possibilities, in The Netherlands and in China. I don’t know where ‘home’ will be a year from now, but whether it is in Kunming or in Amsterdam, it will be a good place for me.