CRL Collection resources: Political Communications and Mass Education in China in the Early Years of the People’s Republic

The holdings at the Center for Research Libraries are especially rich in primary documents of political communications. The pamphlets, reports, newspapers, and other kinds of printed materials held by CRL chronicle the activities of political figures, parties and organizations around the globe. Such documents are vital source materials for history and area studies, but tend to be produced erratically and disappear quickly.

The Hunter Collection consists of mass education materials published in Hong Kong and in Mainland China, particularly Shanghai, in the years 1947-1954. These include several hundred cartoon books, pamphlets, postcards, and magazines, heavily pictorial in content, on such topics as foreign threats to Chinese security, Chinese relations with the Soviet Union, industrial and agricultural production, and marriage reform. The materials were produced by both Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) and Communist regimes, and appear to be directed at the general youth and adult populations of China.

Ohio University History graduate student Adam Cathcart is using the recently cataloged collection as the core primary source material for his M.A. thesis, Against the Sun: The Chinese Communist Party and ‘the Heirs to Japanese Imperialism,’ 1945-1950. Cathcart first learned about the CRL Hunter Collection materials through a search under “Chinese propaganda” in OhioLink’s on-line catalog. Availability of these materials on long-term interlibrary loan from CRL made in-depth work on this topic possible for Cathcart, who expects to complete his thesis in November 2002 and to pursue the topic further in a dissertation.

Cathcart was especially interested in the collection’s Communist-produced materials, which illustrate how the emerging People’s Republic regime sought to shape public sentiment toward foreign powers, particularly the United States and the Soviet Union, during the years leading up to the Korean Conflict. Cathcart notes that the materials document efforts by illustrators and cartoonists who were supportive of the Communist regime to present the United States as heir to Japanese imperialism in East Asia. This strategy exploited unhappiness among many Chinese about American efforts during their postwar occupation of Japan to rebuild the country’s industry and trade, rather than to redress wartime atrocities and destruction by the Japanese on the mainland.

Cathcart initially expected to use textual sources predominantly in his research but found that the Hunter Collection materials revealed features of the rhetorical strategies adopted by the Chinese Communists during the first few years of the People’s Republic that available textual materials do not.


Accompanying the Chinese publications were a small number of pamphlets from a series entitled Cartoon Propaganda Reference Materials, published in Beijing by the People’s Art Publishing House, and distributed by Xinhua Book Store. Cathcart notes, “Beginning in November 1950, these short pamphlets were centrally produced for distribution to local artists. The series helped to ensure that depictions of ‘enemies of the people’ would follow established guidelines. Its publication indicates that the Communist leadership viewed cartoons and picture books as an important way of educating the masses about the specific political and social ideals being introduced under communism.” The Cartoon Propaganda Reference Materials also offer insights on contemporary readings of the images and picture stories, and Party leaders’ expectations of the artists who created them.

In order not to commit the error of formalism, [the cartoonist] must avoid abstraction and generalization in his work…Artists who shut themselves up in ivory towers will never impress the masses with their cartoons. Once a workman was heard making the following remark, “Your picture does not show our factory. It shows factories which employ cheap grade fuel, for the smoke coming out of the chimneys is black and dense. We use good coal in our factory. That is why the smoke coming out of our chimneys is very light.” 5


The collection clearly reflects the professional and personal interests of Edward Hunter, who assembled and, in many instances, translated and annotated the materials. An analyst of propaganda and mass education, Edward Hunter (1902 – 1978) had a long career in journalism and intelligence: first as a printer’s apprentice at the New York Evening Post, then reporter, copy editor, and news editor for several newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune (Paris edition), New York American, Philadelphia Bulletin, and the New York Post. As a correspondent and foreign editor for newspapers and news services in the Far East, Hunter covered hostilities in Manchuria, Spain, and Ethiopia during the 1930s. During World War II Hunter served in the Morale Operations Section of the U.S. Office of Strategic Operations for two years, mainly in Asia. After World War II Hunter became a vociferous anti-Communist and popular lecturer on propaganda and psychological warfare. He was publisher-editor of the monthly journal Tactics, a contributor to mass-market magazines like Esquire, Harper’s, and Reader’s Digest, and an expert witness for Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, and House Committee on Un-American Activities. His most well known book was Brain-washing in Red China: the calculated destruction of men’s minds (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951).


Although cartoons were popular in China since the 1920s, they had not been used for political purposes by the warlord governments and the Kuomintang. In China prior to the Revolution it was more common for critics, rather than supporters, of the government to employ cartoons and pictorial materials to communicate their message. A detailed survey of this tradition in China is Hongying Liu-Lengyel’s Chinese Cartoons as Mass Communication: The History of the Cartoon Development in China, a dissertation produced for Temple University’s History Department in 1993. This study is based upon extensive interviews with surviving Chinese cartoonists, editors and journalists who were active during the early and mid twentieth century, conducted by the author during the early 1990s. Liu-Lengyel provides considerable information about the cartoonists themselves, their organizations, and the satiric journals, publications and exhibitions through which much of their work was disseminated.

Most of the Chinese political communications in pictorial form that are reproduced in print or on the Web date from the early 1950s and later. The Chinese propaganda materials currently on the Web are largely those mounted by private collectors and dealers, such as Stefan Landsberger’s Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages or are included in topical features like the International Institute of Social History on-line exhibition of political posters, The Chairman Smiles. Two general on-line guides to Chinese history materials are

A recent analysis of the current state of Web resources for Chinese studies is the paper by Hanno Lecher “The World Wide Web as a Resource for Chinese Studies: an Introduction to the Internet Guide for China Studies” in International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter 15.1998.

For access to rarely held Chinese periodical literature, the University of Pittsburgh’s Gateway Service Center of Chinese Academic Periodicals offers on-line searching of major Chinese library collections, as well as document delivery of cited articles.

The Harvard-Yenching Library of the Harvard College Library also offers extensive on-line information on electronic resources for Chinese history and language studies.

A rich collection of recent Chinese advertising and mass education materials has been mounted on the Web by Rice University’s James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy, as part of the Institute’s Transnational China Project. The resource includes on-line archives of several hundred posters and outdoor advertisements including the “China’s Public Advertising Culture” archive, which documents the Chinese Communist Party’s adoption of modern Western advertising techniques in promoting political agendas and public works.

5. From a special report on “Activities of Shanghai Cartoon-Artists during the Past Two Years,” made at the “Provisional Expansion Committee for the East China Production Appraisal Display at the National Artistic Exhibition” by the cartoonist My Ko, published in Cartoon Propaganda Reference Materials, issue 13 (1950?) pages 10-13.

This report was assembled by Amy Wood, head of CRL Technical Services, members of her staff, and Bernard Reilly. Adam Cathcart, of Ohio University, provided historical and contextual information about the collection and about his research.