Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 4 years 11 months ago

In Phase 0, I chose the topic for my inquiry project, Government Graffiti: Propaganda Messages in Xizhou. I continued on to Phase 1, where I began to do some background research as well as coming up with essential questions for my topic. Phase 2 was dedicated to finding helpful resources in order to answer the questions I came up with. We are now in Phase 3, where I will begin to interpret the information that I have gathered. 

Background Information (from Phase 1):


A message that is intended primarily to serve the interests of the messenger- this is the basic definition of propaganda. It may also be defined as the spreading of information in order to influence public opinion and to manipulate other people's beliefs. Information can be delivered in many ways. Schoolteachers try to give accurate information to their students, and television news broadcasts attempt to provide it for their audiences. What separates propaganda from these is the quality of information and the way it is use[1].

Government Propaganda

Governments have been chief dealers in propaganda because they at all times require the support of their subjects or citizens. This is especially in true in times of war, when governments want expressions of patriotism, self-sacrifice, and solidarity. They generally suggest propaganda be aimed at two directions- at citizens and at the enemy. The citizens must be persuaded that their cause is right and that they are capable of defeating the opponent[1]

Toletartion States

have an advantage over democratic ones in using propaganda because they have a greater control over the means of mass communication. They can present coherent and consistent messages to their publics with little fear of contradiction. Even a totalitarian state with all of its police power needs the support of its population, however. Both the Soviet Union and China had much opposition to overcome after Communist regimes were installed. Bonds of attachment to old ways of doing things and discontent with the new had to be overcome. In China, Mao Zedong mobilized the nation's youth through a massive propaganda campaign to stamp out all opposition to his reforms. The result was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which nearly destroyed the economic and social fabric of the country[1]

Propaganda Posters

Mao had appeared prominently on propaganda posters as far back as the 1940s, despite ambiguous warnings against a personality cult. The intensity of his portrayal in the second half of the 1960s, however, was unparalleled. Under Lin Biao, the PLA increasingly was employed to bolster the personality cult around Mao, and thus to produce art that would contribute to the construction of Mao's god-like image. All this took place with Mao's consent. Already before the compilation of the Quotations from Chairman Mao (Mao zhuxi yulu 毛主席语录, the 'Little Red Book', published in May 1964) for use by the armed forces, the PLA had been turned into "a great school of Mao Zedong Thought". The army became the driving force behind the campaign to study Mao's Quotations[2]

Long live Chairman Mao, 1970

A prominent example of a propaganda poster that portrays Chinese citizens saluting Chairman Mao[2] 


Propaganda in the People's Republic of China

Propaganda in China refers to the use of propaganda by the Communist Party of China to sway public and international opinion in favor of its policies. Propaganda is considered central to the operation of the Chinese government. The term in general use in China, xuanchuan (宣傳), itself originally translated from 'propaganda' in western languages, has retained the original neutrality of the word and could be seen as synonymous with the word 'publicity' today. Aspects of propaganda can be traced back to the earliest periods of Chinese history, but propaganda has been most effective in the twentieth century owing to mass media and an authorial government. China in the era of Mao Zedong is known for its constant use of mass campaigns to legitimize the state and the policies of leaders. It was the first Chinese government to successfully make use of modern mass propaganda techniques, adapting them to the needs of a country which had a largely rural and illiterate population[3]

The Chinese Revolution of 1949

After Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932, China's government faced threats of Japanese invasion, Communist uprising, and warlord insurrections. Frustrated by the focus of the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek on internal threats rather than a Japanese assault, a group of generals abducted Chiang in 1937 and forced him to reconsider cooperation with the Communist Army. As with the first effort of cooperation between the Nationalist government and the CCP, this Second United Front was short lived. The Nationalists expended needed resources on containing the Communists, rather than focusing directly on the Japanese, while the Communists worked to strength their influence in rural areas. Most of the propaganda found in rural areas are focused on Communist uprising[4,5].

Propaganda During the Cultural Revolution 

Propaganda was used heavily during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a mass campaign launched my Mao Zedong in 1966, and ended the year of 1976. Aside from the general revolution across the whole of China, the period was marked by a large number of sub-campaigns. Often, these sub-campaigns came swiftly so that propaganda posters served as the main source of information for the people.  With the country in complete chaos, these images were acceptable because it portrayed clear and unambiguous information of what behaviors and slogans were acceptable at that moment, which were seen as more reliable than the media. Locally produced posters not only shed light on the information, but also from an artistic point of view. They are often interesting in their simplicity of design and coloring, often using red, white, and black. They bear witness to the urgency of the times[6]

Information From 3-to-5's:

Ye Ling

During this interview, Ye Ling provided me many locals that may help me gain more knowledge on propaganda messages in Xizhou. Ye Ling told me that the elders, people above 50 or 60, knows much about the old propaganda on the walls because it was during the Cultural Revolution. She also told me where propaganda messages can be found, like near the Linden Centre or around town in the alleyway[7].

Mr. T

Mr. T introduced me to the idea of 'China Dreams', a new propaganda campaign promoted in the recent two years by XinJinPing. His introduction made me think of a newer perspective of quite possibly comparing the old and new messages in Xizhou. However, he did say he did not know if anyone might be available for me to interview on this topic. In the interview, he gave me a new idea that it can be possible for me to do a video tour on the street of propaganda near the Linden Centre. The propaganda is from many time periods, and may be interesting to see how Chinese propaganda messages have evolved. Mr. T also told me that most of the time, previous students on propaganda just stood in front of the propaganda messages and questioned locals that were passing. Another tip he gave me was to build on the previous students' projects instead of rediscovering what they have already reported[8]

Mr. Linden

Mr. Linden, the owner of the Linden Centre, helped me understand more about what kinds of aspects I can focus on in my project. He told me about how new messages on the wall are not necessarily propaganda. They promote more positive messages, such as not doing drugs and taking care of the environment. This interview gave me a whole new possibility on how I might face my project in a way that goes through the process of how they put up the messages on the walls. Mr. Linden also recommended me to do a little more research on the whole process before talking to the village head, a resource he recommended. However, he did not know a lot of people that knew about my topic, but he was extremely helpful[9]

Information From Local Contacts:

11/27/14 Mr. Du

Mr. Du is an antique dealer here in Xizhou. This afternoon, Ms. Mai and I headed out to his house for an interview about propaganda. Mr. Du was very welcoming to share his knowledge on propaganda.

  • New propaganda messages are more slogans rather than actual propaganda
  • More of the new propaganda was in the 1990s rather than more olden times, like the 1960s.
  • Old propaganda told more about Mao Zedong's policies and saying, such as 'One, do not fear pain. Two, do not fear death'
  • Everyone has a different opinion on the propaganda,
  • There are some who obey it, and some who do not
  • Old propaganda is more for the whole country as a whole
  • New propaganda relates more to a specific area
  • Younger generation just memorizes the words of the propaganda, and does not actually go to research and learn about what the messages mean deeper
  • New messages are general reminders and do not have as much meaning as the old messages. 

Mr. Du's interview helped me tremendously with the idea of old versus new propaganda[10]

11/28/14 Mr. He:

Mr. He is one of the two guards here at YangZhuoRan.

  • At different times, like the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, had different themes for propaganda
  • Th Great Leap Forward had special propaganda on what was happening at that time 
  • During the Cultural Revolution, propaganda was mostly about Mao Zedong's sayings 
  • Propaganda has changed from time to time according to the country's politics 
  • New propaganda is mostly commercials about different types of items, like investments.
  • During the Great Leap Forward, citizens with very nice handwriting were hired to write the propaganda
  • The government owns the walls, so they are the ones to send out the propaganda and are the only ones who can write on the walls
  • Young people do not care about these propaganda as they only care about what is happening in their lives
  • The only messages they look at are commercials about products
  • To write new propaganda, people mostly paint over the old messages before putting up the new[11]

12/1/14 Ms. Liu and Mr. Yang

This afternoon, Mr. T and I headed out to town to discover more of the older propaganda that is around Xizhou.

Landlord Propaganda 

  • Across Sifangjie to the narrow street right across lined with different street shops. On one of the old brick buildings, Mr. T pointed out a propaganda just above our heads
  • The propaganda was put up around the 50s since the words were written from right to left
  • The red words were faded out a little, so it was hard to know what the exact words were
  • Mr. T pointed out that the message was about how during the land reform, the landlords were considered the worst class because they were thought of as greedy
  • The land was taken away from their control, and separated to even plots of land distributed to the glory of farmers to help grow crops

The Harvest Lady

As I was studying this propaganda, Ms. Liu and Mr. Yang walked by. They immediately provided me some insight on this piece of propaganda. 

  • A huge drawing of a young woman carrying a basket full of vegetables and food while surrounded by bags of grain, baskets of bread, and even more food
  • During the Great Leap Forward at 1958
  • Ionic because in the Great Leap Forward, most people in China starved
  • It was across from what used to be a food warehouse[12, 13].

12/2/14 Mr. Zhang

Mr. Zhang is the security guard at the Linden Centre.

  • Outside the Linden Centre there were two propaganda messages, but they were faded out.
  • One of them was '全心全意为人命服务‘, which means wholeheartedly serve the people. 
  • The Linden Centre was once an army barrack, so the propaganda was there to motivate them 
  • Written around the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution
  • The Cultural Revolution was a time period where many propaganda messages were painted
  • In temples there were messages about how people should do good things
  • Most propaganda from the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward have been destroyed or faded off because the messages conveyed bad ideas
  • Compared to the old propaganda, the new ones are very different
  • After the reform, China has become more great, and more wealthier
  • One propaganda was about the birth policy, and how it will help with the country.
  • Most propaganda is painted on by government officials[14]

12/2/14 Mr. Zhao

Mr. Zhao is the security guard here at YangZhuoRan.

  • After the reform, the propaganda was mostly about ‘三反五反’, translating to 'three against, five against'
  • The three against were 'anti- corruption', 'anti-waste', and 'anti-bureaucracy'
  • After the 'three against' there were the 'five against' which were 'anti-bribery', 'anti-tax evasion', 'anti-jerry', 'anti-state property theft', and 'anti-national economic intelligence theft'
  • The messages were about defeating landlords as well as about 'Chairman Mao Forever' and other related sayings
  • During the Cultural Revolution, da zi bao, were used as propaganda and some were about 'Communist Party Forever' or 'Cultural Revolution Forever'
  • With Maoist, as different time periods come and go, they will write the propaganda messages about different ideas and things
  • He pointed out the propaganda message about defeating American imperialism then Chiang Kai-shek
  • The old propaganda messages were destroyed mostly by people after the reform or over time
  • Every time period people will write propaganda messages pertaining to the events of that time[15].  

12/3/14 Mr. Yang

Mr. Yang is an antique dealer at Sifangjie with his own shop, where I went to visit him this afternoon.

  • During the Cultural Revolution, propaganda messages were painted on the walls
  • Some examples of what they would write includes telling people to learn something
  • Propaganda messages sometimes were about fighting against Kuomingtang (KMT), which was the major threat to the Communist Party (CCP) at that time
  • With each different time period, the propaganda will have different messages about how to educate people
  • With modern times, propaganda has more information to offer than older ones.

He showed me pages of a small book with Mao's sayings, which is also propaganda messages.

There was one message on a bowl from a little bit before the start of the Cultural Revolution (1964, 65, 67, 68) about farmlands being full of opportunity with each piece of land brimming with potential. Each family needed to study the messages on the bowls. These bowls were collected from rural areas.

  • Mr. Yang believes that some messages have a good meaning to them, like working hard and becoming better with motivation
  • Now in Xizhou, the new messages are made using pens on a red paper, and randomly write on it
  • The old messages used red paint to draw large letters on the wall
  • These new messages were from the time period of 1990s to 2000s
  • After the Gang of Four was removed, some propaganda was destroyed or painted over
  • After Liberation, Red Guards went around and destroyed messages from the Ming and Qing Dynasty
  • Government is the ones who paint the propaganda, but every time period has different messages for their citizens
  • During the Great Leap Forward, the messages were about growing crops, harvesting, and making more food
  • When asked about the Harvest Lady propaganda, Mr. Yang said during that time, the whole China was starving, and to just have small portions of food was good enough.

One other propaganda was on a small red piece of paper from Mao about how every person of a community must pay full attention.

  • Propaganda messages do not have to just be on the wall, they can be anywhere
  • Propaganda after the 1980s to 1990s have very good meanings that we should learn
  • The bad messages do not need to be learned
  • When asked about the landlord propaganda, Mr. Yang believes that landlords are not bad because even if you are rich but do not have land, you are not a landlord
  • Around the 1950s were when the landlords were defeated.
  • Now, as society grows, as long as you know the meaning of the good messages, you will be fine.

We must study Mao's sayings as they are great and will help us in the future[16].   

12/4/14 Mr. Ma         

Mr. Ma was not willing to share his opinions on the propaganda messages[17].

12/4/14 Mr. Duan

After dinner tonight, Mr. Duan, a former government official, came to YangZhuoRan to talk to me about propaganda messages. Since it was dark, he took me out to a message near the house.

  • The propaganda message loosely translated to ‘First defeat American Imperialism, then go after Chiang Kai-Shek’
  • During this message, around 1955 or 56, it was the Korean War. The Americans were on the side of the south, and China was on the side of the north 
  • China did not agree with the Americans ideas of Communism, so that was why they needed to first defeat the US.
  • The next part is about the Chinese Civil War, in which the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) were fighting against the KMT (Kuomingtang)
  • Propaganda changes according to the needs of the society at the time, like with the Korean War propaganda
  • During that time, China’s biggest threat was the Americans and their views on Communism, so that is why they encouraged people to first defeat them
  • To understand what the propaganda message means, you first need to know the history behind it
  • You cannot expect to truly know the message if you do not understand the circumstances it was written under[18].

12/9/14 Mr. Yin 

This afternoon, we went to Mr. Yin's house near Donganmen, where he gave me some information. 

  • Propaganda covered by government officials because policies have changed
  • Most put up during the Cultural Revolution (1960s) and 1950s
  • After the Cultural Revolution, policies have changed after Mao died in 1967
  • Now, propaganda is all covered
  • Some people have different opinions on the Cultural Revolution
  • The propaganda in home courtyards are about Mao's sayings and theories
  • During the Cultural Revolution, people had no choice but to write Mao's sayings on bags, walls, etc. or else they would be thrown into prison
  • Xizhou backpedaled in advancement during the Cultural Revolution because of the chaos
  • Many people were paranoid that they were going to be thrown into prison or worse
  • Everyone liked Mao during the Cultural Revolution, just like money in present times[19]

12/9/14 Mr. Zhao

Mr. Zhao, our neighbor, gave me more history behind the propaganda messages.

  • Great Leap Forward was during 1958
  • Messages were about increasing production for crops
  • Cultural Revolution was from 1966 to 1976
  • Some citizens wanted to fight the government during those times
  • Some messages are covered because they are not pretty on the walls
  • The government officials are the ones who take care of covering propaganda
  • A message outside our house is from the 50s during the Korean War
  • It was written after the land reform
  • They put propaganda up in order for the whole village to understand the contents
  • New propaganda is more modern and can be on televisions, computers, etc. 
  • Very different from old propaganda, which were written only by educated scholars[20]

12/10/14 Mr. Duan

At 9:30 this morning, I went with Mr. Duan out to town to view some of the propaganda messages. We also walked to the village where he lived, City East Village. 

  • A propaganda message in front of our home was written during 1949, the Liberation 
  • About not forgetting Mao Zedong forever 
  • One propaganda written on red paper during September 9 this year
  • September 9 is Respecting Elders Day so they were encouraging it
  • During the Great Leap Forward, everyone did everything together 
  • One village would only have one portion of food to eat 
  • People starved and their stomachs were always hungry
  • Now it is viewed as bad, but at that time, they did not have much choice
  • 10 years ago, there were fires in Xizhou
  • Propaganda about fire prevention has sprouted from that to educate citizens
  • There is propaganda about citizen rules for the city of Dali
  • Then there are citizen rules for the whole country
  • Finally, rules are also written about villages 
  • One propaganda was about protecting Erhai Lake from pollution 
  • Ancient propaganda is on the tops of the walls
  • Next to pictures and drawings from ancient times[21]

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

1. What messages are conveyed in the propaganda messages?

The messages in the propaganda messages depends on what time period it was written in. For example, with the propaganda about defeating American imperialism, it was written during the 1950s, when the Korean War was going on. This differs from propaganda written during the Great Leap Forward, which were mostly about banding together to increase crop productions. Most of these old messages have to do with large historical events during that time, like the Cultural Revolution. It may also have to do with politics as there were some chaotic times in Chinese history. With newer propaganda, messages have been more focused on commercials or general reminders to the public. There are many fire prevention propaganda messages around town because there were fires some years back, which is why there are so many instructions on what to do if a fire does appear. 

2. What opinions do the residents of Xizhou have on the propaganda?

Most residents in Xizhou do not really notice these propaganda as much of these were from old times, like back in the 1950s. However, some people believe the old propaganda has a good meaning and we should understand them more. 

3. How do these opinions vary according to age?

The elders in this village have grown up through many tough events in history, so they believe some of these messages should be learned and read. When asked about the younger generation, some believe that they do not go out and try to learn about these messages. They are too involved in their own lives to understand these messages. The old propaganda has no effect on them because they did not grow up during those times. 

4. Why were the propaganda messages put up there?

The propaganda messages were put up there by the government in order to serve the society's needs at that time. The new propaganda messages act as general reminders for people while the old propaganda has more meaning and depth to them. Propaganda is here to serve the citizens as well as to spread general opinions among the crowd. 

5. Do the residents of Xizhou interact with the propaganda in any way?

The residents in Xizhou mostly interact with the propaganda by covering the old sayings and painting the new ones. The old messages do not need to be here anymore as that time period has passed and is not relevant to the needs of society now. Government officials are the ones who cover up or destroy the messages as they own the walls of the town. However, normal residents of Xizhou mostly pass by the propaganda and take a glance once in a while.  

6. How has the propaganda changed over time?

According to each time period, there will be different themes for the propaganda. As society continues to grow, we cannot expect the propaganda messages to stay the same as it is simply not relevant. For example, propaganda in the Cultural Revolution was about Mao's sayings and theories because during those times, everyone respected Mao. However, in modern times, when we study or look back on the Cultural Revolution, there may be differing opinions and the propaganda will have no use except to act as a historical tool.  

7. At what times were the propaganda created?

Propaganda messages are created at any time. There are definitely some old messages way back during the Cultural Revolution and Liberation time periods, but most of them are faded away or covered. There have been also many new propaganda messages around town that you can tell have been recently put up because the color is quite vivid. There are propaganda messages from any given time period, such as from the 1940s or older to 2000s. 

8. Have the propaganda ever been vandalized?

Over time, many propaganda has definitely been vandalized. Mostly this has been done by people, like covering the old messages with paint or plaster. The old propaganda is covered because they may be viewed as bad or unnecessary to the modern times. Some propaganda I have seen have gaping holes in them, which may be from different tools rather than just paint or plaster. Also, propaganda messages have also been influenced by the weather. Because of rain, sleet, or snow the messages have also suffered from fading off and not being that visible as before.   

9. Is there a specific reason why propaganda messages are put somewhere?

Most of the messages were put up randomly, but mostly where citizens pass by on a daily basis. Some propaganda messages are put up near residents' homes, so as when they come out, they will have a good view of them. For example, some propaganda messages are put up on the walls bordering a large street to where the Linden Centre is where many people pass by. 

10. Did the government actually send officials out to Xizhou to put up the propaganda?

The government did not send officials to Xizhou as that would take too much time. The local Xizhou government is actually the one who writes and comes up with these messages. However, in old times, the propaganda messages were written on the walls by scholars who had good writing. 


1. Online: Britannica,

2. Online: Chinese Posters,

3. Online: Wikipedia,'s_Republic_of_China

4. Online: U.S. Department of State-Office of Historian,

5. Online: Katharine Y (Alumni-F),

6. Online: Cultural Revolution Campaigns (1966-1976),

7. Ye, Ling. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Nov 25, 2014

8. Tafel, Craig. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Nov 25, 2014

9. Linden, Bryan. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Nov 24, 2014

10. Du. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Nov 27, 2014

11. He. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Nov 28, 2014

12. Liu. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 1, 2014

13. Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 1 2014

14. Zhang. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 2 2014

15. Zhao. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 2 2014

16. Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 3 2014

17. Ma. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 4 2014

18. Duan. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 4 2014

19. Yin. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 9 2014

20. Zhao. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 9 2014

21. Duan. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen F., Dec 10 2014 

Right now, I know I am ready to move on because I have gathered a huge amount of information from the local contact interviews I have conducted. Not only that, I had a Walk and Talk with Mr. T, where I gained a good sense of how I want to organize my information as well as how to deliver all of this to my audience. The next phase of my journey would be Phase 4: Preparing to Share: Emerging Ideas.     


Kristen, what an interesting

Kristen, what an interesting topic! I have learned some things from reading through your research-and what a great opportunity to speak with people who were around during the Cultural Revolution and to hear their opinions and experiences. I look forward to reading more!

Hi! My name is Kristen and I'm currently 13 years old. I'm in the 8th grade at SAS Pudong. I was born in Palo Alto, California, but moved to Shanghai the summer before 4th grade. I've been living in Shanghai for more than four years already. Since elementary school, I've been learning Chinese, although I don't consider myself fluent. Also, I have an older sister who is in 12th grade. My interests include reading novels, such as the Harry Potter series, writing short stories, and traveling to new places. Xizhou was such an amazing experience, and I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to embrace all that it had to offer.