Propaganda from China’s Cultural Revolution: an icebreaker into red propaganda

Image One: The Great Proletarian Leader

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution must be waged to the end Source

Context: This poster is from 1973 of Mao Zedong, greeting the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. It was created by artists that had come back from labor camps. The caption, “Chairman Mao’s heart beats as one with the hearts of the revolutionary masses.”

Bias Ice Breaker: Do you think this picture has a bias? Is it intentional or unintentional? What do you think was the artists intentions? Why do you think an artist would create an image glorifying Mao and the Red Guard after returning from a labor camp?

Student Response: I think this poster has a bias because maybe the artists were trying to prove that they weren’t anti-Mao, so they created art that showed Mao in a positive light.

Image Two: A Good Red Guard

Criticize the old world and build a new world with Mao Zedong Thought as a weapon Source

Context: This poster is propaganda promoting Mao’s Little Red Book that contained quotes from Chairman Mao. The idea of this poster was “It is small and bound in a red plastic cover so you can always carry it with you. A good Red Guard knows the book by heart and rarely reads anything else.”

Questioning Ice Breaker: What questions do you have? What does the context contribute to this poster? What is going on in this poster? Is the person in the poster young or old? Does it matter?

Student Response: I wonder why this poster wants people to carry the book everywhere with them. It looks like it’s a young person, but he has that arm band which kind of reminds me of the Nazi’s so I think it shows that there is some group thing going on.

Image Three

Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou together with us Source

Context: This poster is of an imaginary scene of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai sitting in Tiananmen Square talking with Red Guards. It was created in 1977 which is after the end of the Cultural Revolution. The caption going down the side says that Mao and Zhou are together with us.

Anomalies Ice Breaker: What do you notice is weird/off about this poster? What surprises you?

Student Response: I noticed that this was created in 1977 which is just after the Cultural Revolution ended. I thought it was a horrible time period where a lot of people were hurt so I think it’s weird that this poster shows everyone all happy after something so bad had happened. There’s also fireworks going on in the background which makes it seem like they are celebrating something, maybe the end of the Cultural Revolution?

Manifest Destiny

Photo #1: A Trifle Embarrassed

“A trifle embarrassed” Source

Context: The print shows Uncle Sam and Columbia (male and female representations of the United States) standing at the entrance to the “U.S. Foundling Asylum” as a basket of crying children labeled “Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, [and] Philippine” is presented to them by arms labeled “Manifest Destiny”. Within the walls of the asylum are four children labeled “Texas, New Mexico, Cal. [and] Alaska” playing together.

Icebreaker: Caption writer: Analyze the image. Does it contain a caption? Does the caption help understand the image? Create a new caption for the image.

Student response: The caption is: Uncle Sam “Gosh! I wish they wouldn’t come quite so many in a bunch; but, if I’ve got to take them, I guess I can do as well by them as I’ve done by the others!”

The caption helps understand the image because it lets you know that The United States (represented by Uncle Sam) is reluctant to accept these new territories as part of the US but plans to assimilate them into the majority culture and believes that this will lead to happiness for them. This is shown by the babies that represent the new territories crying and the ones already assimilated playing happily.

A new caption could add a response by saying: Columbia: “Well Sam, this is the price of spreading freedom and democracy around the globe.”

Photo #2: A War President

“A War President” Source

Context: This print shows Democratic candidate and general in the war of 1812, Lewis Cass with cannons for limbs and a sword and spear as he lists territories for expansion.

Icebreaker: Symbols: Analyze the image. Are there any Symbols? In what context do they fit in? What context would make them confusing? Do they hold up today?

Student response: In his right hand, Cass holds a sword labeled “Manifest Destiny” which combines the idea of American’s god-given right to expand into new lands with the means by which this is accomplished, violence. This symbol fits the context of the presidential election of 1848 because its goal is to make people believe that Cass’ expansionist leanings would lead the US into war. Because he is a former general in the War of 1812, this makes sense. This symbol would not fit the context if the idea of manifest destiny was not associated with violence and war. The symbol definitely holds up today because there are still examples of the US invading and occupying other nations. Although manifest destiny may not be spoken of as the driver.

Photo #3: American Progress

American Progress Source

Context: The print shows an allegorical female figure of America leading pioneers westward, as they travel on foot, in a stagecoach, conestoga wagon, and by railroads, where they encounter Native Americans and herds of bison.

Icebreaker: Bias: Analyze the image. What bias is present? Is the image arranged to create bias? Is there unintentional bias? Is there something in the image that is controversial today but not at the time it was created?

Student response: Showing the female representation of America as an angelic being creates an idea that westward expansion was a noble cause, which is biased from the perspective of Americans who were participating without considering the point of view of the native Americans. This is certainly an intentional bias but also may have been the honest belief of the artist. Since this print was created to promote that bias, I don’t see any unintentional biases. The whole idea of manifest destiny and that westward expansion was ordained by god was a commonly held belief at that time but is somewhat controversial today. I say that it’s only somewhat controversial because it seems to be widely regarded as a negative thing today and there is not much controversy about the evils committed during this era. Although Americans still enjoy the benefits of this belief even if we denounce the acts.

Images of the ANZAC Legend


The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was the regiment of soldiers sent by their countries to serve the British Empire during WWI. They fought most notably in the Battle of Gallipoli, where they faced crushing defeat by Ottoman forces in 1916. Although the ANZACs were defeated in this battle, the memory of those who lost their lives in the war is remembered each year on ANZAC day. Pride and honor of the ANZACS has formed a significant part of Australia’s national identity

Image 1: Caption Writer

Australian troops resting in the Egyptian desert WWI Source

Caption Writer Icebreaker: Does this photo have a caption? If so, how successful is it in providing context to the photo? Then, create your own caption for this photo.

Context: Many ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers travelled through Egypt during WWI, especially on their way to Gallipoli.

Expected Student Response: The caption of this image reads “Troops resting in the desert.” This caption seems a bit vague. It helps me to understand that these are soldiers (supported by the many guns in the photo), but it does not give much context as to who these men are and why they in front of the Egyptian Pyramids. I would recaption this photo “ANZAC troops rest near Egyptian Pyramids during WWI.”

Image 2: Anomalies

WW1 postcard showing a kangaroo mascot with Australian soldiers in Egypt. Source

Anomalies Icebreaker: Analyze this image. What surprises you about it? What seems out of place?

Context: The ANZAC forces brought a young kangaroo with them from Australia as a mascot. This was primarily to lift spirits and remind the soldiers of their home. This photo depicts the mascot with the soldiers while they travelled through Egypt.

Expected Student Response: Is that a kangaroo? With the Egyptian pyramids in the background?? This seems like an anomaly because kangaroos are only native to Australia. Also, the people in the photo are carrying arms and dressed in soldiers’ uniforms, yet they are stopping to play with the kangaroo. It is very interesting that a small animal like this would be on its way to a warzone!

Image 3: Missing Pieces

“A Siege Battery in action, firing a Howitzer – WW1.” Source

Missing Pieces Icebreaker: Analyze this image. What seems to be missing from this siege photo? How do the missing pieces affect how we understand the context of this image?

Context: This photo is a print from a WWI ANZAC book dated 1917.

Expected student response: This photo shows several ANZAC soldiers preparing to fire a Howitzer. It takes at least 7 men, and several others are watching vigilantly. What is not pictured in this photo is who/what they are firing at. We cannot see their enemy forces, which would provide context to the photo. The setting of the image also seems unclear, as there are no clear indicators of the terrain besides the large trees overhead. Also not pictured is the aftermath of the blast. I do not think these things were left out intentionally. The soldiers are focused on their high-stress task and probably did not have time to consider what was left out of the photo.

In Times Past: Fake(?) News

Caption Writer

Primary Record comes from House of the Senate


Caption Writer: Analyze the image. Does it contain a caption? Does the caption help understand the image? Create a new caption for the image.

Important context: This cartoon was published in 1939, a day after German troops were deployed to invade Slovakia. Because German aggression was still fresh on the minds of the French, British, and Americans, (the three parties represented in the photo) the comic portrays the nations as unsettled and worrisome of the future of Hitler’s actions.

Icebreaker Response: This image is an American comic meant to depict the foreign fear and agitation of onlooking nations as Hitler began to deconstruct modern Europe. New caption: ” Oh oh.. do you think it’s loaded?”


This primary source comes from the Records of the U.S. Information Agency.


Bias: Analyze the image. What Bias is present? Is the image arranged to create bias? Is there unintentional bias? Is there something in this image that is controversial today, but not at the time it was created?

Important context: The caption of the image read, “Anywhere there is Communism, there is terrorism and assassination.” This image is created by the United States Information Agency in 1954, in. order to spread the fear of communism into newly divided Vietnam. This strategy is much like the “Red Scare” strategy employed on American citizens.

Icebreaker Response: The bias in this image is anti-communism. Obviously, this anti-red campaign poster was created by Americans in order to slow the rise of communism in Vietnam, in order to prevent the spread of Soviet influence in critically important countries. Obviously, modern day political campaigns do feature slander against their opposing parties, but maybe not to the extent of using words like “terrorism and assassination.”


This primary source comes from the Records of the Office of War Information.


Anomalies: Analyze the image. Write down the things that surprise you about the image. Discuss the questions with a partner and generate new anomalies.

Important Context: This poster was used by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Services. Believe it or not, is was spread in order to prevent forest fires, by creating the perception that American enemies gain advantages from our “carelessness.” I guess they needed someone more intense than Smokey the Bear.

Icebreaker Response: Honestly, I am both shocked at the discovery of this image and amused by its creativity. Obviously the anomaly here is that the US State Forest Service would consider using the perverted faces of Hitler and a Japanese soldier in order to encourage American forest goers to be careful about creating forest fires. From an era of propaganda campaigns and satire posters, I would expect nothing less.