Freedom and Forgiveness

Jared Huber

Christ Has Set Us Free 


          A central tenet of the Christian faith is that those who are saved by grace are free from the imprisonment of their “old man.” This principle of freedom from sin and your “old self” is illustrated very clearly in this poster, entitled “Christ Has Set Us Free” published by Alliance Press in China. In the poster, an eagle is loosed from its bonds by an invisible hand holding scissors. The eagle is allowed to fly, free from the bondage that was holding it back before. The text provides abundant context of what is being illustrated. It speaks of how God forgave us through Christ, how Christ has set us free, and how we have escaped as a bird out of the fowler’s snare. It also provides the supporting scripture references for these statements. 

          The creator of the poster made some interesting choices in their design. First, it is conspicuous that the person setting the eagle free is not shown in the picture but is instead cut out of the frame. Instead, a hand holding scissors is only visible. The poster creators could have chosen Christ to represent the person holding the scissors. They could have chosen not to do so, however, because they wanted to emphasize that it was His grace and forgiveness of sins that freed us without being inhibited by different cultural interpretations of Jesus that would have been necessary to represent Him. In this manner, a more accessible and independent message could be spread—one that emphasized grace. They even labeled the scissors with the text, “The grace of forgiveness of sins.” 

          The use of a bald eagle as the bird is a particularly interesting choice considering the fact that bald eagles are not native to China and that eagles in general are not a widely used symbol in Chinese culture. In my research of the publisher, Alliance Press, it was not clear from which country they were from. However, based upon the use of a bald eagle it is reasonable to assume the creator and/or publisher may have been from American origin. In light of the generally positive Chinese-American relations at the time of this poster’s publishing, this inclusion of the eagle could have helped link the message of the poster with America in the eyes of the viewer, potentially producing a positive response in light of the good relations between the countries. In his article, “In Our Image: Visual Perspectives and American Protestant Missions in Interwar China,” Joseph Ho highlights some of the factors at play when one culture creates images of another culture or images meant to be received by that other culture by saying, “Images embody tantalizing cross-cultural, transnational perspectives that may be illuminated by further ‘on-the-ground’ research” (Ho, 2012). These factors are clearly at play with the inclusion of the bald eagle. However, as Ho says, without further “on-the-ground research” it is very difficult to truly know how Chinese culture would have received this unabashed display of foreign influence in a poster meant for their viewing and persuasion. 

          Despite the eagle probably being an indicator of American origin, the way the eagle was illustrated effectively demonstrates the message of the poster. After being set free by grace, the eagle flies upward, facing the sky, instead of flying away. This depiction helps to illustrate a Christian’s life after being set free through Christ: Christians are to constantly look towards God for guidance while always moving further and further away from sin. Sanctification of the believer is an important part of the Christian life after being set free. 

          The log that the eagle is set free from is inscribed with the characters for sin. In conjunction with the eagle flying upwards, framed away from the log of sin, this further illustrates the freedom of the Christian from sin itself, as well as the Christian’s duty to fly away further and further from sin. 

          The upward motion of the eagle in the opposite corner of the poster conveys a sense of motion that effectively draws the viewer and attracts their attention. As the viewer’s eyes travel first from the log of sin, then to the eagle, they eventually encounter a central message of the poster, “In Christ God forgave you.” 

          One of the most interesting things about the textual design of the poster is the choice to illustrate the bottom text in red. Why would this have been done? Because the message says, “Christ has set us free,” this text could serve as the title of the poster and its most obvious connection with the overall message of the poster: Christians are free through Christ. Another reason to choose red besides attracting attention is the fact that red, in China, is a color commonly associated with good luck and happiness. Setting the message of freedom through Christ in red connects this freedom with happiness. The combination of simple, effective imagery combined with the clear explanation of the text composes an effective poster likely enhanced by the choice of a bald eagle as the main subject to connect the creator and message to one of China’s more friendly foreign powers. 



          The Bible provides an equivalence between the people and animals who entered Noah’s Ark to be saved from the coming destruction and those who put their trust in Christ to be saved from the coming destruction. This poster seeks to demonstrate the same lesson. It depicts three men who are in a small tub floating on the water next to a large, strong, Chinese ship. Unlike the other posters in this series, the text on this poster plays a more central role to its message. Without it, there is little that would make sense, unlike in the Christ Has Set Us Free Poster or the Light of the World poster. Some of the text is set apart from the actual field of the image, emphasizing its importance. The text on the left admonishes the viewer to believe in Jesus while the text on the right quotes Genesis when it says, “Go into the ark, you and all your household.” These two texts connect the two related biblical stories. The little tub the men are floating in is inscribed with the characters for “Man’s way” while the strong ship has “God’s way” written on it. Combined with the text, this image is encouraging viewers to abandon the hopelessness of man’s way and come aboard to God’s way—the only sure way for survival and avoiding drowning in the waters. 

          This poster was published in 1935. This date is intriguing because its timeline could have helped to inform its imagery. China has always struggled against the dangers of flooding in its territory. However, in 1931, China was beset with some of the worst flooding in the country’s history: the 1931 Yangtze-Huai floods. This natural disaster caused anywhere from half a million to four million people to die. The searing memory of this tragedy was still at the forefront of many Chinese minds when this poster was made in 1935. By using the imagery of assured drowning if one didn’t choose God’s way (the ship), the creators underlined the extreme urgency of choosing Christ and seeking forgiveness and the disastrous consequences if they didn’t. However, it is also reasonable to question if using the imagery of flooding and water was potentially off-putting to many viewers, considering the enormous tragedy China had just undergone from the destruction of water. 

          The other texts in the image continue to highlight the singularity of solutions available to someone who isn’t saved. The texts quote Ephesians 2:8 and Acts 4:12, both of which highlight that someone cannot be saved through anyone else but Jesus. The imagery emphasizes this message by only presenting one option to the forlorn men in the tub: the strong ship of God’s way. That ship is the only option available to them besides downing, just as Jesus is the only option available to someone perishing spiritually. 

          However, if the men in the little boat are really about to perish on the seas, as the poster would seem to insinuate, why are they seemingly so calm? They are merely talking with each other and making no visible efforts to alleviate the peril of their situation. Since these men are floating in “man’s way,” their obliviousness to their danger is indicative of all mankind who are not following God’s way. Unfortunately, so many people who are not following God do not realize that they are in danger—they are merely concerned with the things of this life with no awareness of what is outside this life. This is exactly what the men in the tub are doing. Another interesting quality of the men is that they are wearing strongly traditional clothing that may have been someone visually out of place at the time of the poster’s creation. While there are many reasons this may have been the case, it is possible the creator had two main goals in mind to choose to dress the characters this way. The first reason may have been to illustrate that man following their own way is, traditionally, the course of mankind. By clothing them traditionally, the creator could illustrate the timeless phenomenon of man following their own ways and ignoring Gods. Another potential reason may simply to have shown these men were common by dressing traditionally, but that the saving ship of God’s way is still available to them as well. As the Bible says, God is no respecter of persons but instead views everyone the same: as His creations. 

          One question that remains if the authors intended to show the futility of man’s way and the salvation through God’s way is why isn’t the sea depicted as rough and perilous? It would make sense if the creator wanted a viewer to feel desperation at the futility of man’s way, they would show man’s way in peril. However, the three men in the tub are shown calmly on a peaceful sea, seemingly discussing something. Perhaps the creator wanted the viewer to come to a reasoned decision to follow Christ as the only way to salvation instead of feeling compelled by an image of three men fighting for their lives in a small tub entitled “man’s way.” 

An interesting quality of the text of this poster is the distinction the creators made for the characters of “one family” and “whole family” from the rest of the text they are contained in. It is difficult to ascertain for certain why this decision was made in the first place. However, Chinese culture places a very heavy emphasis on the importance of family. By highlighting “one family” and “whole family” perhaps the creator was intending to show that before you choose God’s way, you are only part of your one family, sinking alone and isolated from others. When you choose God’s way, you become part of a “whole family,” the family of God. Christianity believes that when someone accepts Jesus as their Savior, they become a spiritual child of God and adopted into a larger family of believers. Those who choose God’s way, become part of God’s whole family. 

          The poster is similar in design to the Christ Has Set Us Free poster through their use of similar colors, layouts, and textual designs—including the similar use of red. While they were made by different publishers, it is possible that the Christ Has Set Us Free poster was also made during the same time period of the 1930s through its use of similar design and aesthetics.

          Overall, I think these aesthetics, textual additions, and powerful illustrative imagery all contribute to an effective poster highlighting the decision that lays before all people who have not chosen to follow Christ. However, the creator’s message could have been potentially negatively impacted by the raw emotions that still lay behind the 1931 floods and the dangers of water and flooding. Harnessing a flooding natural disaster for a poster may not have been the most effective way to illustrate that people have to choose God’s way to be saved, although it is an appropriate analogy. 

Light of the World


          Our final poster also deals with themes of freedom, forgiveness, and the light Christ brings to those who accept Him. In the poster, there are three people who are walking down a narrow path to destructive fires. They are blindfolded and carrying heavy burdens on their back. In the upper center of the poster, we see a fourth man who is walking confidently in the opposite direction, not blindfolded,  not burdened, and walking in a shining light. What exactly is being illustrated here? 

          This is another case where the text can provide valuable illumination on the overall message. Each burden has the Chinese character for “sin” written on it. Every one of these people, except for the man in the light, is weighted down by their own sin. The sin burdens are also colored in black—a highly appropriate choice that reflects the creator’s thoughts on the nature of sin as an evil, dark burden. 

          The people that are burdened with sin are also walking towards the fire. This fire is representative of the fires that await those who do not accept Christ, who still remain burdened and unrepentant in their own sin. The man who is in the light, however, is walking away from the fires and does not have visible sin. Instead, he is bathed in light. The Chinese characters in the bottom right, which are revealingly written in the same color as the light, give an explanation from the Bible in John 8:12 as to why the man in the light has no sin, saying, “Jesus said: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This verse definitely reveals the man in the light to be a Christ follower. Consequently, he is forgiven and free from sin, he is avoiding the fires of destruction, and he is not blinded! 

          All of these elements together form a powerful visual and illustration for any viewer: believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Saved from sin, saved from destruction, saved from blindness and saved from your own walk down the wrong path. 

          As in the last poster in this series, it is again interesting to note how the creator chose to dress the men. While traditional clothes such as these were falling out of style during the time of this poster’s publishing, they still play a prominent role in this poster. As stated previously, this could be to illustrate the commonality of these problems. All people are burdened by sin. All people need forgiveness, and most importantly, all people can be saved through Christ. The creator can reinforce these messages by showcasing the common, traditional attire of the characters in the poster(s). 

          In this poster, the very deep color of yellow chosen for the light is striking. Why does the author depict the light as almost uncharacteristically yellow when white or a more “light” color could have been chosen? Yellow in China has a cultural connotation of being a lucky or even worship-able color. It is also a marker of higher social status. By putting the light, and the characters, in this color the creator was highlighting the favorable, lucky, and elevated status the man who is bathed in this color has. He is saved, he is free, he can see, he truly is lucky. These are all messages that the color of yellow help to insinuate and reinforce. 

          Finally, a close observation of the poster reveals that each of the blinded, lost people are searching to find their way along the path. Some of them are feeling in front of themselves, some are feeling with a cane. They all are blinded and they all cannot see. Why does the author show each of them searching in some way? This element was to help illustrate that mankind, without the light of God, is always searching to find their own way. Rarely is there a society that does not ponder its origins and current purpose to be on the earth. These men, in the poster, are also searching on the path of life for the correct way. However, without Jesus and their burdens and blindfolds being lifted, their search is in vain. 

          The framing elements used in this poster were effective, I think. The man who is walking in the light is framed in the center of the picture near the top. He is one of the first things a viewer is drawn to laid their eyes on and is therefore portrayed as the ideal. According to the message of the poster, he is indeed the ideal! He has no burden or blindfold and he is saved. By placing him here, the creators were able to centralize the message of the poster and augment its already powerful appeal. 

          Overall, I believe this is the most effective poster in the series. All of its messages are vibrantly clear, unlike some of the deeper messages in the other posters. The creator’s message was excellently depicted both artfully and yet effectively and understandably. This poster is one, if read properly, that strikes the viewer with its message and call to action. Be saved in Christ.

As A Series: Freedom and Forgiveness




          When analyzed together, the beauty of these posters becomes even more apparent. I chose these three posters because together, they illustrate three main elements of the forgiveness in Christ that Christians were trying to communicate to the Chinese. The first poster shows us the freedom to be found in forgiveness from sin. Those who are forgiven can fly as eagles. The second poster shows us the salvation that can be found in forgiveness. The average people in the boat, once they board the ship of God’s ways because they are forgiven from their sins, are saved from sure drowning in their tub that represents man’s ways. The third poster illustrates the clarity, guidance, and freedom from the burden of sin found in forgiveness. The man who has believed and is forgiven can see, he knows which way to go on the trail, and he has been relieved of the burden sin imposes on your soul. Combined, these posters form an extremely striking and powerful image of the forgiveness of Christ and I think if somehow they could’ve been displayed together in China, they would have a significant, combined effect upon the viewers. 

          If I were illiterate, I believe I still could have understood the basic message of forgiveness from the posters, especially in the third poster. However, having the ability to more deeply understand the posters through the posters’ text is obviously an incredible advantage. If I were illiterate, I think a question that would arise for me would be how these posters are informing each other. While potentially I could understand the basic message of each, I think it would be difficult to view the true interconnectedness of the posters. 

          While these posters were produced across a range of times and places, I think they inform a viewer very well together and that they are beautiful in combination. Each poster has its own unique design, however, there are some very strong similarities in terms of design through color and style between the first two posters while the third poster shows more of its own distinctive design through more bold lines and vibrant, non-pastel colors. It is amazing that the creators of these posters were able to create them with the level of recognition they gave to Chinese culture. Just as in the case of the Henkes and their photographs, these posters, “Depicted structures and ways of life very different compared to what the couple [or poster creators] were accustomed to as foreigners, they also point to relationships between images, texts, and perception” (Ho, 2012). The exact same thing in terms of the creators’ perception and experiences is happening in the posters just as it did in the Henkes’ photographs. Foreigners came to China, created posters or photographs that increasingly demonstrated a deeper familiarity with Chinese culture, and dispersed them to either record their life as in the case of the Henkes, or persuade others to come to life in Christ, as in the case of the posters. These posters have been a part of a larger historical phenomenon: how people outside Chinese culture have learned to communicate in a way Chinese culture could be receptive to—and subsequently bring millions of Chinese to forgiveness in Christ over the years.


Ho, Joseph. 2012. In our image: visual perspectives and American protestant missions in China. UCLA Historical Journal, 23(1). Retrieved from

Posted by Jared Huber

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