The Portrait of Mao at Tiananmen Square: Background information when reading Red Memory

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Red Memory

The Afterlives of China's Cultural Revolution

by Tania Branigan

Red Memory by Tania Branigan X
Red Memory by Tania Branigan
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  • Published:
    May 2023, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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The Portrait of Mao at Tiananmen Square

This article relates to Red Memory

Mao's Portrait in Tiananmen Square Though Chairman Mao Zedong's legacy is a contentious subject in China, his portrait still presides over the gates of Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heartland of the nation. The enormous oil painting, measuring 6.4 by 5 meters and weighing 1.5 tons, was first put in place in 1949, shortly after Mao's Communist Party wrested power from the Kuomintang. Now, decades later, Mao's portrait maintains its prestigious position, though the painting has changed somewhat since the original was created. There have been eight official renditions of Mao's portrait between the 1940s and the present day. Even when no changes are made, the painting is copied and replaced annually to ensure that the image doesn't degrade. Over the decades, the portrait has taken on a life of its own, becoming less a clear-cut endorsement of Maoist leadership than a totemic national artifact. For the government, it symbolizes the unity and strength of the Communist Party; for some people, it symbolizes China itself.


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