The Two-Paths Dilemma

In this exhibit we will explore how the two-path dilemma is expressed in posters of different levels of detail.
Grant Bowman

In this exhibit we will explore how the two-path dilemma is expressed in posters of differing levels of detail.

Here we see two boats with people on them. The people on the edges are both pointing in opposite directions, resonating with the idea of the way of the Word and the way of the world.

We also see centered a man dressed in white put against a white background, stretching his presence across the image. Our eyes are drawn to him because of his centrality and also because of his motion and position. He is caught mid-step during his transition to the boat of the Word. His current position is unstable and he is likely to fall, being caught between two boats. This leads to viewer to worry about his quick decision, less he plunge below. These feelings are reflected in the captions “One who is double-minded is unstable in all they do (James 1:8)” and “How long will you waver between two options? (1 Kings 18:21)” which simultaneously expose the viewer to the Word but also to practical meaning. The caption takes a personal approach with inclusion of the word “you” and is more practical than expressing a list of Christian morals; they suggest some immediate benefit from following its guidance.

At the same time, the image does not bother the viewer with excess details, leaving a rather simple image that one would not easily identify as Christian if it were left by itself. This is interesting, considering a lot of posters tried to fit a lot of details in (explored below). The image itself is instead framed between  phrases on the sides building on the dichotomy between “the wicked” and “the righteous”. Combined with “boat of the Word” and “boat of the Wicked” on the rafts, we get this sense of conflict of interest and exclusion. One surely cannot be on two boats at once, and surrounding text seems to support the Word is the one to choose “Jehovah watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction (Psalm 1:6).”

Through its simplicity, the poster is able to reach out to literate and illiterate Chinese alike, giving it a wider audience. The image itself could find meaning in almost any culture. It also puts some of the burden on the viewer as they see themselves in the position of the white clothed man between boats, which would drive them to take action and choose a side ideologically.

In summary, this poster is able to convey a simple message of the significance to choosing a path and, through the frame and text, guides the viewer towards Christianity. Its simplicity allows it to thrive and attract Chinese people from all walks of life.

This poster presents bold, contrasting imagery. In the upper-right we have a shining golden city, and in the foreground we have a dark, deep canyon. Only one bridge exists to cross this chasm, and the cross leads the way to it. Not everyone on the bottom-right wide road is able to see the bridge behind the cross and instead keep in their way of eventual death as represented by the chasm bending to intersect with the bottom of the picture. By slowly taking up more area in its progression from the middle right to the bottom left, the chasm presents itself as a very real, growing problem not left to be ignored until later. The bridge presents itself at the right time before the chasm is too big to cross, and the bright red makes it stand out once noticed. This bridge represents faith and the path beyond is one’s journey through faith.

The roads are worth looking at too: The bottom right hosts the path most traveled, easy and wide, beaten to dust from all the traffic of those who came before. The man at the bottom falling off the cliff makes us think of these previous travelers following the same fate – death. On the other hand, the curvy road on the left is less traveled and more difficult, and is gotten through way of the cross, or Christianity. This road does not lead to death, but to the city on the hill – life everlasting.

The poster also connects to the situation it is presented in and the reason it was made: Evangelists are making these posters to raise awareness of the cross that is present yet not seen. The Henke doctors, Christian missionaries from the United States, are practically saving lives in China through medicine and spiritually saving souls through Christ. Though medicine may heal our physical illness, faith saves us from death, they argue. The text on the poster reflects this, saying, in part, “Way of death, [. . .] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” Their photographic documentary also gives insight to the types of personal connections they made during their stay, Joseph Ho argues in his analysis of this documentary. In the poster we see men dressed in suits as well as workers from the fields, reflecting these patterns from the missionaries, as well as the message they preach being meant for all to hear. The Henke doctors are an example of this, being open to taking in people from all social levels – poor, rich, young, old, male, or female – and sharing the Word. 

In summary, this poster continues the trend of two paths while focusing on the people and ends of each path. It also resonates with the work of Joseph Ho in that missionaries are spreading the word, establishing personal connections, and are willing to share with people from any background as seen from the remnants of these posters. Though the practical skills that the missionaries bring may cure illness, it will not cure death and the soul – that much requires faith.

In this poster the viewer is presented with a lot of details. Once again, the dilemma of two paths shows up, but in this poster these paths are more fleshed out. The left path, more populated with both people and buildings, represents the way of the world. This path leads to death, as seen in the upper left of the poster by fire, smoke, and devastation. The way on the right is thinner, less traveled, and leads to life, represented by the glowing lamb on a hill.

The image itself is cluttered and full. The large rectangular vertical frame represents upward progression through life as well as enabling maximum use of the space of the poster. Little room is left on the border for text, and the text that is there, save the eye-grabbing title, is small (see bottom of poster). By using a mix of so many different colors, the image is distracting and makes focus difficult in all the hubbub. Despite this, a clear dichotomy of left and right, path of world and path of Word, is still distinguishable. This is characterized by the differing details, color contrast of yellow against green, and the fence line in the middle.

Firstly, the left side, the way of the world, is the more cluttered of the two sides. Through the number of people and the houses and merchants, the poster goes to show the different common sins and immorality present within the Chinese culture and the extent of their reach. The names on some of the houses read “Brothel”, “Lottery”, “Fortune Telling”, with others following a similar suit. By being in proximity to the other buildings, these various deeds connect with each other and form a network of immorality. Their position in the beginning of the path shows that there is worse to come, as seen with the burning city in the distance, as well as giving them the importance of a sort of early warning. This imagery brings remorse to the deeds the houses before represent. The viewer would recognize the connections between the houses, as well as the fate of this path, and desire to change their ways.

In contrast, the path on the right is the way of the Word. Compared to the shops, this side instead has a church and a crucifix early on. The path is thin, and not many people are on it; some cliffs and hills show that it is not the easier path either. At the same time it is peaceful and green, giving those on it a clear path of the future. This implies that the path is lesser known, and awareness needs to be raised.

The bottom of the image also holds importance. The cross-shaped sign says “Way to Eternal Death” on the left and “Way to Eternal Life” on the right. The gate on the left is wider than the hole in the wall next to the preacher on the right. The wider path has more people and is more traveled than the preacher’s path – the way of the Word. This is important because it shows that not a lot of people are aware of the way of the Word, and the preacher also reflects the missionaries in China at the time too. The frame could have been changed to only house this bottom section and it would have had a similar meaning, showing that this is the most critical part of the picture. This small entrance at the beginning is not the only way in, however; there are two bridges later down the path. These bridges act as hope for those who earlier found themselves on the left side of the path in their lives. They provide a chance for people to change their way before they fall to destruction. An example of one of these converts who crossed the bridge later would be Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese military general who had been converted by a missionary. Through his diary it was shown that he was intentional and devoted to the faith, despite initially being down the path shown on the left of the poster.

In summary, this poster presents a lot of cluttered details. From the left path, the houses, the gates and preacher, there are a lot of fine details. Despite these details, the basic message of a path of destruction and a path of salvation still are attainable from a simple glance. The viewer would then have to decide which path they want to be on, and upon seeing the gates and bridges, would come to the conclusion of that possibility. Through its complexity, however, it would be less likely to appeal to an illiterate audience.

These three posters show a progression of the level of details in their depictions of the two-path dilemma. All three show the conflict of choice between the way of the world and the way of the Word, and through their various portrayals, describe the situation to the viewer and advocate for a solution – the way of the Word.

The first, less detailed image, simply shows a man in an unstable position needing to stop hesitating and pick a boat. Its simplicity in visuals and text allow it to be interpreted by any and every viewer. The second image focuses on a chasm, a red, bright cross and a shining golden city beyond it as taking center stage. The bright imagery stands out to the illiterate while the text builds upon Jesus’ legacy and purpose, allowing both types of literate and illiterate viewers to leave with a better understanding of Christianity. The third image clutters its details, overwhelming the viewer, but still allows its message to come across. Through this progression of details it can be seen that there were a variety of posters describing the situation.

An illiterate Chinese would be able to glean the necessity of choice (as seen in poster 1 and 2) and the importance of the cross in making this choice (as seen in poster 2 and 3). Despite not being flooded with Christian imagery, the images that are present are in high contrast to the rest of the image, such as the bright red cross in poster 2 or the thin path and multiple crucifixes near the bottom of poster 3, which make them just as impactful, if not more so. Some questions these posters may leave the viewer asking are what exactly is the importance in this cross symbol, and why are the paths presented as mutually exclusive and in contrast with each other.

Posted by Grant Bowman

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