Art and the Cultural Revolution

Grades 9-12 Arts & Literature, Government, History, Society Lesson or Unit Plan
  • Cover image of elementary school textbook depicting Red Guards from Guangxi 1971. Image shows three young Chinese Red Guards during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Students will examine the use of art as propaganda during the Cultural Revolution through a series of posters. They will learn a brief overview of the Cultural Revolution, the 4 Olds, and the Red Guard, examine common themes running through Cultural Revolution posters, and perform short skits of Cultural Revolution events. Students will leave this lesson with a general knowledge of the Cultural Revolution, and the galvanization of youth through the use of artistic propaganda.

Title: Art and the Cultural Revolution
Author: Joshua Fine
Subject Area: Social Studies
Grade Level: 9-12
Time Required: Three 45-minute periods
Standards: World History, Students use variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.
(Source:http://www.highered.nysed.gov/kiap/precoll/service_learn/standards/28stand.pdf)
Keywords/Vocabulary: Red Guard
Red Book
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
“The Four Olds”
Essential Question(s):
  • 1. How can art both energize and politicize the youth?
  • 2. How did Chairman Mao energize the youth during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution?
  • 3. Is the youth easily influenced?
  • 4. How was art used during the Cultural Revolution?
  • 5. Why was it so important to get rid of Confucian influences in communist China?
  • 6. Why is it significant that some of the youth turned in their own parents?
  • 7. Are propaganda posters any different than advertising campaigns?
Learning Objectives/Goals/Aims:
  • To understand how art can be used to spur people to action.
  • To understand how Mao exploited the youth to rid himself of political enemies.Students will know the historical background that helped lead to the Cultural Revolution.
  • To understand why Mao wanted to rid the country of Confucian influence. Students will compare and contrast the motives of the youth during the Cultural Revolution with the motives and actions of the youth involved in “Occupy Wall Street”.
Introduction: Students will examine the use of art as propaganda during the Cultural Revolution through a series of posters. They will learn a brief overview of the Cultural Revolution, the Four Olds, and the Red Guard, examine common themes running through Cultural Revolution posters, and perform short skits of Cultural Revolution events. Students will leave this lesson with a general knowledge of the Cultural Revolution, and the galvanization of youth through the use of artistic propaganda.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was a social-political movement that took place in the People’s Republic of China from 1966 through 1976. It was started by Chairman Mao Zedong of the Communist Party with a stated goal of enforcing socialism in the country by removing capitalist, traditional and cultural elements from Chinese society. Mao also sought to impose Maoist orthodoxy within the party. Set in motion after the failed Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution helped return Mao to a position of absolute power in the People’s Republic of China.

The movement also crippled the country politically, and affected the country in many ways.The revolution was launched in 1966 after Mao claimed that bourgeois elements were infiltrating the government, with the goal of restoring capitalism. He appealed for a violent class struggle to overthrow the capitalists, and many of China’s youth responded, and formed the Red Guard. The Red Guard were a mass paramilitary social movement of young people who sought to root out capitalist influences from China’s culture.

However, the group quickly started attacking people, particularly intellectuals.The Cultural Revolution ultimately led to a fracturing amongst China’s leadership, and destabilized the power structure in the Communist party. The stated goal of cleaning out “The Four Olds” (i.e., Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas) turned Chinese culture on its head.During the Cultural Revolution, PRC propaganda was crucial to the formation and promotion of the cult of personality centered around Chairman Mao, as well as mobilizing popular participation in national campaigns.This propoganda took the form of traditional posters, plays, books, and various other medium.

Procedure/Pedagogical Technique/Instructional Strategy: 

Day 1

1. Students will enter the classroom, take their seats and copy down the “AIM” and “Do Now” from the board. Students will have 5 minutes to answer the “Do Now”.
AIM: How can art both organize and politicize the youth?
Do Now: Why did President Obama win the youth vote in the 2008 Presidential election? Write a paragraph explaining how President Obama appealed to younger voters.

2. After the students have written their responses, the class will engage in a 5-minute discussion as to why President Obama appealed to younger voters. All important points raised by students will be written on the board.

3. The discussion will finish with the question, “Why are the youth important?” (3 minutes)

4. After the discussion, the class will receive a 7-minute mini-lecture introducing the Cultural Revolution, the Four Olds, and the Red Guard.

5. After the lecture, the students will discuss how Chairman Mao was able to win over the youth. (5 minutes)

6. Following the discussion the students will look at a number of propaganda posters from the time period of the Cultural Revolution. (5 minutes)

7. In small groups the students will come up a list of common themes that ran through all of the posters. They will discuss how the youth was portrayed in the pictures. (7 minutes)

8. Students will discuss why Mao felt it important for the youth to be willing to even report on their parents. As a class we will discuss how this conflicts with filial piety. Can filial piety survive in a totalitarian dictatorship?

End of Day 1: For homework, the students will read “The Red Lantern” by Weng Ouhong and A Jia.

Day 2

1. AIM: How can art both organize and politicize the youth?
Do Now: How did the play, “The Red Lantern” turn filial piety on its head?
Students will enter the class, write down the AIM, and write one paragraph answering the “Do Now” question.(6 minutes)

2. Students will discuss their answers to the “Do Now” and then discuss whether or not the play qualifies as an example of propaganda. (5 minutes)

3. Students will perform the “Red Guard” skit and use it to theorize why Mao would influence the youth to act on his behalf. (12 minutes)

4. Students will determine why young people are rebellious and how Mao might have used that to his advantage. (5 minutes)

5. Students will discuss why the youth can be very powerful. (7 minutes).

6. Students will be asked to connect how the youth can display power to our society. They will be shown pictures of Occupy Wall Street. Students will determine how Occupy Wall Street is different than the Cultural Revolution. (Occupy Wall Street is not sponsored by the government). (10 minutes)

End of Day 2

Day 3

1. AIM: How can art both organize and politicize the youth?
Do Now: Students will be placed into predetermined groups.

2. In groups of six, the students will write short skits depicting events from the Cultural Revolution. Each group will be tasked with focusing on a certain topic. (25 minutes)
Group 1: A Red Guard rally
Group 2: A teacher trying to control their class
Group 3: A child turning in their parent to the government.
Group 4: Parents living in fear of their children.
Group 5: Red Guard members failing to enter the Forbidden City.

3. For the last 20 minutes of class, the students will perform their short skits.

End of Day 3

Discussion Points/ GroupInteraction: Students will discuss the following questions in small groups, and as a class.

  • 1. How can art both organize and politicize the youth?
  • 2. Why did Obama win the youth vote in the 2008 Presidential election?
  • 3. Why are the youth important?
  • 4. How was Chairman Mao able to win over the youth?
  • 5. Why did Mao feel it as important for the youth to be more loyal to the government than their parents.
  • 6. How did, “The Red Lantern” turn filial piety on its head?
  • 7. Did the play, “The Red Lantern” qualify as propaganda?
  • 8. Why are young people rebellious?
  • 9. How is the youth powerful?
  • 10. Students will be placed into small groups to write a skit depicting some aspect of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. After writing the skits, the students must perform them for the rest of the class.
Assessment: In small groups, the students will write short vignettes/skits about life during the Cultural Revolution.
Closure:  The students will perform their skits for the rest of the class.
Instructional Resources/ Materials: This lesson will require a handout, laptop, LCD projector, and a powerpoint presentation.
Extending the Lesson / Follow-up Activity: 1. Students can make their own propaganda poster reflecting a recent event in the news.

2. The students will write an essay depicting the differing motives of the youth during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and Occupy Wall Street.

Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Caterogy: Grades 9-12 Arts & Literature, Government, History, Society Lesson or Unit Plan

Author

Teach China Team

Teach China is a comprehensive professional development program offered by China Institute to provide a wealth of opportunities for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of China, past and present. We take an interdisciplinary approach consistent with national and state-mandated standards in order to help educators incorporate the teaching of China into all subjects and grade levels, including Mandarin language learning, the humanities, social studies, and the arts. Teach China promotes cross-cultural understanding through the use and creation of authentic materials, the presentation of balanced perspectives, and the fostering of enduring connections between educators around the world.