Imagery in Posters

Tyler Azer

Symbolism, Metaphors and Direct

Chinese Christian posters would use varying degrees of symbolism and metaphors to display their ideas. In Daryl Irelands book Visions of Salvation he states that “Numerous posters illustrate scriptural verses in a metaphorical landscape, where text and a picture work closely to reinforce each other. In this exposition… The landscape is clearly labeled; there is no chance of misreading… the poster is clear but its metaphors are unusual.”1 Throughout these works, some may use more direct or ambiguous forms of metaphors to convey their message.

These two posters share a subject, the choice of sin and salvation but both commute the message similar yet different fashion. The poster on the left; Between Two Options; uses boats to represent the choice whereas the poster on the right; Beware; uses a very direct rock labeled as sin leading to a fiery hell off of a cliff side and on the other side of the poster a man praying infront of a cross; receiving mercy for their sins. On first appurtenance, they may look very different, one rather calm and one filled with action, yet they both reflect on the choice of sin or salvation and the vast majority of text in both are passages from the bible. Printed on both posters is the phrase “Please go to a church to hear the Gospel and to study the Bible.” Between Two Options hypothetical situation may appear calm but is well defined by the text on the poster; the bottom states “How long will you waver between two options” as one could not stand between two boats as the boat on the left is rowing to keep the option open, that the Christians are actively trying to help one chose the path of the righteous whereas the path of the wicked is there in the right boat putting no effort to lead one astray. Both posters use water or a cliff which is commonly used depict the incorrect path, those who oppose Christianity, sin and failure to convert which represented as a fall or drowning from being overwhelmed said forces. One notable feature in Beware is that the cross is plain wood. Most posters color the cross red which is mostly represented as a good color in Chinese culture for the luck and fortune it represents.

These two poster are sequential and display quotes from Matthew, yet they are different from the scripture. The left poster House Built on Rock displays two houses  prior to the storm and the right poster The Foolish Man Built His House on Sand displays them during a severe storm. The poster on the right quotes “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” the poster does not follow the passage fully as it shows a great flooded island sweeping the house away and drowning its residents as opposed to a river instead of it falling. It also shows a thunderstorm striking the ‘foolish’ sand house residents  instead of great winds but this drives home the message of what happens to those who go against the scripture. 

This poster Bridge of Salvation shows many of the typical symbols that occurs in these posters. The common symbols include sun representing the ‘Light of God’, the red Cross, and a cliffside pit of sin. This poster show that without the ‘bridge of conversion’ you will not achieve ‘forgiveness and eternal life’ from being a good person alone as the planks display they will not bring you to the other side of the pit.

One thing of note about these common symbols through the posters is how they may go against how Wester Christians use them. Chole Starr nates that “The poster may be clear, but its metaphors are unusual, since a rock in Christian vocabulary is usually a place of safety, not a representation of sin, and waters are usually cleansing rather than the foaming wrath of God.”2 Some of the metaphors such as the aforementioned rock and water have quite different meanings and on the other hand; some such as the sun is used relatively similarly than how the west would use it; some such are the Cross are used in a positive tone yet they have a different aesthetic to them.

Though commonplace on these posters, symbolism was becoming a controversial topic as its role was debated  between fundamentalist and modernist. Chloe Bay explains that “These social and structural changes, added to the long-shouldering and growing divisions between, on the one hand, Biblical modernists trained in higher criticism of Scripture who downplayed the super-natural aspects of the faith and, on the other, adherents of traditional evangelical revivalism, brought the post-World War I “fundamentalist-modernist” controversy to China.”2 There was quite a debate whether the acts of God were real events or a merely a tool to help explain the religion.  One heated fundamentalist fed up  with modernist argued stated “All is gone! The Virgin Birth of Jesus is an ‘allegory’ Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice – there is no such thing, only a ‘demonstration of the power of God’s love!’ Belief in the physical Resurrection has ‘no vital importance for Christians faith!’ Genesis in not credible, the prophets are not to be believed, nor the Gospels, nor the Epistles, not the witness of the apostles, nor even the words of Jesus himself! Thus all essential doctrines of the Bible are denied by these modernists; they are completely overturned. What, I ask, is left? What is left?”3 If one says that these symbols, allegories and metaphors are simply meant to help people understand and convert, they diminish the Bible.



1. Starr, Chloe, 2023, Visons of Salvation, Ch 7, editor Ireland, Daryl, Pg. 105. Baylor University Press

2 .Starr, Chloe, 2023, Visons of Salvation, Ch 7, editor Ireland, Daryl, Pg. 106. Baylor University Press

3.Bays, Daniel, Handbook of Christianity in China, Volume Two: 1800-present, editor Tiedemann Gary, Ch 4.1, Pg 670, Brill

4. Mingdao, Wang, Documents of the Three-self movement: source materials for the study of the Protestant church in Communist China, Y.T. Wu, Wang Ning-tao – We, Because of Faith Pg. 103


Posted by Tyler Azer

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