Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic

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Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic
By Chang-tai Hung
Cornell University Press, 2010
328 pp. $39.95
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The politics of remaking Chinese ideology and literature after the 1949 revolution have been thoroughly studied. Less well known are the dramas behind the reconfiguration of physical space, the staging of public celebrations, and the redesign of graphic arts. Hung's meticulous research reveals the struggles over values and power behind the granite surface of revolutionary China's new look. City planners fought over how big and what shape to make Tiananmen Square. Beijing icons such as the Great Hall of the People, the big museums, and the railway station were built in haste and with constant tinkering. Displays at what was then the Museum of the Chinese Revolution had to be revised to give enough prominence to Mao. A famous oil painting was altered four times as some of the leaders portrayed in it were purged and then rehabilitated. One failure was the party's attempt to replace charming New Year's prints of gods and fat babies with socialist realist pictures of labor heroes and political leaders: the book's illustrations make it easy to understand why the peasants were not interested.