National Rebirth

Kyo Hyun Koo


The collection of different posters that are shown here focuses around the overarching theme of nationalism, focusing on the renewal of Chinese society. These posters were created during the tumultuous period of the warlord-era China, where the country was divided and controlled between various warlords that saw all of Chinese society in major decline from the chaos. The rising Nationalist movement within China seeked to reunify the divided country and restore its people, and rebuild it to a great country to reclaim its place in the modern world. Thus, these posters were primarily published by the KMT and affiliated groups with the intention of moral and civic renewal among the Chinese population through encouraging good behaviors, and create a sense of civic duty with the hopes it’ll raise awareness to China’s concern and national well-being.

Forbidding Vices

The first poster here urges the people not to go to or do prostitution, gamble, smoke or partake in other vices. Their forbidden nature is emphasized by the “X” mark placed over them to send the message to the people to be more moral by rejecting these bad behaviors. In addition, on top of the poster written in Chinese, the poster is published by the New Life Movement General Promotion Council. Whose role was to promote the New Life idea created by KMT, who wanted to “revolutionize” Chinese life as its leader Chiang Kai-Shek held the material and spiritual “degeneration” of the people responsible for China’s continuous crisis [1]. The NLM’s crackdown was aimed with the intention of maintaining public health by eradication of bad habits and promotion of public morality; evident in the actions taken against prostitution over the concern of the spread of sexually transmitted disease [2]. Thus, this poster was made in mind of transforming the Chinese people into more healthy people physically and spiritually by encouraging them to abandon bad habits.

Addicting Death

Secondly, this poster shows a human skull with a sick human body on the forehead to slam its message to the face to its viewers. The skull obviously symbolizes death and the image of the sickened body gives it a symbolic image of that person is on the verge of death, and the usage of the color black emits an aura of death and despair that seemingly emphasizes the content of the poster. The poster has several captions written across it calling out to the people not to grow, transport, sell, and smoke opium; and how each of these actions bring about negative consequences to one’s life and poisons communal bonds. The poster’s emphasis on rejecting any usage and distribution of opium connects with the New Life Movement’s basic principle of  “a healthy mind resides in a healthy body”[3]; and combined with China’s poor experience with opium which caused major addiction and social issues. So it’s unsurprising that this poster vehemently seeks to purge any ‘sickness’ – opium in particular – from the people in order to cleanse the Chinese of the poison that brought ruin to China. Along with further connecting with the above passage of the NLM’s focus on public health by riding away immoral behaviors and encouraging moral renewal. 

Training Citizens

Third, we can see here people seated together in several rows before a small podium, where a man in a military-like uniform is standing on top of it with the KMT flag behind him. And at the front row is someone standing up raising his arm in a manner either trying to ask a question or reciting some sort of oath of allegiance. In addition, the center caption on the poster translates to “everyone should undergo citizenship training”, highlighting the desire of the poster of wanting people to gain civic skills and knowledge to contribute to society. It ties to the KMT’s attempt to cultivate a sense of group orientation that the people – whom in the eyes of New Life and KMT leaders the Chinese were traditionally selfish, thought only of themselves and family with little concern for larger society [4]. So that the people would undergo “politicization” and be “awakened” in their consciousness that they could be politically mobilized [5]. And as well as mass organizations that were set up in implementing NLM by trying to organize its citizens through constant mobilization for the betterment of their community, use them to prepare for war or help lead people into nationalistic actions [6]. It’s clear from the poster that it’s encouraging the Chinese to be more engaged in national affairs through training in the hopes that such civic engagement would create a nationalistic engagement if people were aware of their duties and what they could do for their country. 

Working Energetically

In this next poster, it shows a group of people working together within some kind of office with one working on paperwork while others are organizing bookshelves. And below that image is a caption title which translates to “Do Things Energetically”, which in conjunction with the poster image is giving out the message to the people to work hard with great spirit rather than being lazy. Again, tying to the nationalists/NLM belief in a healthy body and spirits will lead to a confident, hard-working, and self-sacrificing citizens willing to endure hardships for the nation [7]. Since working industriously with great energy would supposedly translate to one being equally sacrificial in struggling for their country. All in all, the message behind the poster is calling for the Chinese people to be energetic in working and to take pride in one’s work, and along with putting all their effort into it. That the amount of energy one puts into his or her own work whether minor or major would contribute to the country’s well-being.  


[1] Arif Dirlik, “The Ideological Foundations of the New Life Movement: A Study in Counterrevolution,” The Journal of Asian Studies 34, no.4 (1975): 945

[2] Federcia Ferlanti, “The New Life Movement in Jiangxi Province, 1934-1938,” Modern Asian Studies 44, no. 5 (2010): 983.

[3] Dirlik, “A Study in Counterrevolution,” 957.

[4] Dirlik, “A Study in Counterrevolution,” 958.

[5] Dirlik, “A Study in Counterrevolution,” 958.

[6] Ferlanti, “The New Life Movement in Jiangxi Province,” 986.

[7] Dirlik, “A Study in Counterrevolution,” 958.

Posted by Kyo Hyun Koo

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