China’s Cultural Revolution, now highly collectible

May 15, 2016 11:35 am
"All along, people have appreciated Cultural Revolution objects," said long-time dealer and collector Lin Ji/AFP
“All along, people have appreciated Cultural Revolution objects,” said long-time dealer and collector Lin Ji/AFP

, SHANGHAI, China, May 15 – At the “East is Red” shop in Shanghai, every nook and cranny is packed with memorabilia of China’s Cultural Revolution, from small badges of Chairman Mao Zedong to gigantic posters of his iconic image.

Owner Guo Bing himself is a child of the Cultural Revolution, born in 1966, the year the chaotic and violent decade was launched on May 16. His parents named him with the Chinese character for “soldier”, a common practice at the time.

  • For some buyers, such objects tap into nostalgia for a simpler time, when the state provided everything and society was more equal, despite the abuse the victims suffered.
  • "It was an exciting time for kids," Guo said. "Most collectors now are old people, younger people lag behind."
  • The objects on offer range from an enamelled metal plate with the slogan "Chairman Mao's revolutionary art and literature line victory forever" to a book of cartoons published in early 1977, soon after Mao's death and the fall of his widow Jiang Qing.

But now, Guo sees profits rather than Communist Party ideals in the relics of the past, as the market booms for collectibles from a time scarred victims would prefer to forget.

“Prices have risen because of the anniversary of the Cultural Revolution,” said Guo at one of his two shops in China’s commercial hub, whose gleaming skyscrapers epitomise the country’s economic boom after the abandonment of Maoist orthodoxy.

“People suffered during the Cultural Revolution,” Guo admitted, before quickly adding: “We are meeting demand. There is a market.”

Guo was a “Little Red Guard” as a child in Jiangsu province, he said, wearing his older brother’s army uniform, pinning a Mao badge to his chest and signing patriotic songs.

One of them, “The East is Red”, gave him the name for his business, which has dealt in Cultural Revolution memorabilia for two decades.

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