China talks 2018: collecting the "red" era in contemporary china



During the Mao years, and particularly during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), material culture was produced in huge quantities. Chairman Mao badges, propaganda posters, Little Red Books, etc. were all produced in their billions, and objects from everyday life similarly bore the Chairman’s visage. But what happened to these objects after the end of the Mao era? This talk explores the formation of collections of this material culture, tracing their origins in the early years of the Reform and Opening period, as well as investigating their contemporary manifestations. How is this material culture drawn on, appropriated, and re-purposed by individuals to mediate both their own encounters with China’s recent past and with its contemporary society? Collections can be a way of re-collecting a memory of the past collectors feel is being neglected, it can be legitimised as a type of service to the contemporary state through the preservation of the past, or it can be a way of accruing financial resources, as well as cultural capital and status. This talk will introduce a number of China’s most prominent collectors and their objects, as well as some of the newly emerging public spaces in which these objects are displayed.


Dr. Emily Williams is a cultural historian of modern China. She joined XJTLU as a Lecturer in Chinese Society in 2018. She was previously a Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS (University of London) and a Lecturer at Christie’s Education London. She completed her PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London, during which she catalogued the University of Westminster's collection of over 1000 Maoera posters. Her research looks at Mao-era objects and collections of these objects in both Britain and China.