Big-character Poster

During the Cultural Revolution, a main form of “discussion” was thru big-character posters (dà-zì-bào). They were wall-mounted posters filled with large-sized Chinese characters typically handwritten using Chinese brush. The authors used these posters to pledge allegiance, praise the leaders, display political views, and attack whoever was the denunciated enemy at the time (usually with a red-ink-cross over the person’s name). The following picture is from the website From Mao to Now to give an idea of what they look like.


In fact, a key trigger of the Cultural Revolution was the publication of a dà-zì-bào on May 25, 1966, by Nie Yuanzi and others at Peking University, claiming that the university was controlled by bourgeois anti-revolutionaries. The poster came to the attention of Mao, hence started the revolution.

My mom was in the university at that time, and these posters appeared all over the campus. Everybody had to write and post something, otherwise he or she would be accused of passive resistence. So, like everyone else, she ‘published’ a poster on the wall in the dining hall. Two days later, as she was preparing for a show, someone called her to a meeting. She asked if it could wait till after she performed, the answer was no.

The meeting room was filled with important people – university officials and security personnel and Party investigators. It must be something really bad but my mom didn’t have a clue. It soon came out that someone saw a big red-ink-cross over Mao’s name (!!!) on a poster. And the poster happened to be my mom’s.

She felt dizzy and her mind went blank. She was nervous and scared. This was no joking. If they decided that she was guilty, she would definitely be condemned as an anti-revolutionist and her future and life would be over. After the initial shock, she argued that the poster was already out in a public place and hundreds of people had passed by or stood in front of it, anyone could have done it (say, at night, when nobody was around). It was a good argument but the investigators couldn’t let it go so easily. So they kept asking her questions – her whereabouts the night before, if she had any enemies, etc. The meeting went on for three hours and didn’t go anywhere.

As my mom took a closer look at the trouble-making poster, she observed something interesting. The red-ink-cross over Mao’s name looked different from the other red-ink-crosses (over enemies’ names) that she herself put on the poster. The color was a little off, and the strokes were different (Chinese brush strokes show the forces/movements/directions quite clearly). After she pointed this out to the investigators, they were satisfied that it proved my mom’s innocence and let her go.

After hearing this story, I admired my mom’s ability to keep a cool head under the stress, and chuckled at the fact that her final argument was not really any stronger than her first argument. I was glad that they didn’t give her a hard time, but realized that in those crazy times, there must have been many many cases where the victim was found guilty in the end and his/her life became a nightmare ever since.



3 thoughts on “Big-character Poster

  1. Good Morning,
    > I’m writing from Italy, I work for RAI TV , the Italian National Tv
    > Company, as editor for the program “Il Tempo e la Storia”
    > (
    > tempo-e-la-storia/104/default.aspx) produced by RAI Storia, RAI’s
    > History themed Channel.
    > At the moment we’re working at an episode dedicated to the Cultural Revolution in China scheduled for transmission in April 2016, and
    > we would like to have your authorization for using the Nie Yuanzi poster riproduction we see on the blog.
    Do you have the rights of the photo or could you tell us who have them?
    > > We ask permission and licensing to insert the photo only in this
    > episode for unlimited passages on Rai Channels and Raistoria Website not
    downloadable streaming.
    > >
    > Thank you very much for your cooperation , looking forward to hearing
    > from you
    > Best regards
    Paola Principato

    • Hi, thanks for your interest. Actually I don’t own that picture. I found it on Google and referred to the link “From Mao to Now” in my post. Seems the link no longer works. 😦 also uses this picture but
      I really don’t know who owns it. 😦 Sorry I couldn’t be of more help – I definitely don’t have a problem of your using it. 🙂
      If you search ‘big character poster’ on Google Images, you will find a ton of other pictures…

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