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From the University of Michigan News Service:

Scholarly gems are often found by sifting through dusty archives in foreign lands thousands of miles away. But sometimes they’re discovered just by doing some office cleaning on campus.

That’s what happened recently at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. Staffers who were tidying up a storage room found a stunning collection of rare propaganda papercut images from the Cultural Revolution—a period of massive political upheaval in China that began in 1966 and lasted about a decade.

One papercut shows the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong and his hand-picked successor, Lin Biao, standing up in a convertible car and waving to his cheering youthful followers, or Red Guards. In another image, Red Guards burn books while trampling on a Buddhist statue and other symbols of the feudal culture that Mao sought to wipe out. One papercut shows rallying workers threatening to stab political enemies with giant fountain pens that look like spears.


The set was probably made between 1970 and 71—during the middle of the Cultural Revolution—because they feature Lin Biao, Wang said. Lin was later accused of plotting a coup against Mao and branded a traitor after dying in a plane crash while fleeing the country in 1971.

Wang said the papercut collection is also significant because it was produced at a small art academy in the southern province of Guangdong—far from the center of power in Beijing. It’s unlikely that the collection was authorized or commissioned by the Communist Party’s central leadership, she said.


There are no immediate plans for a public display of the actual images because of concerns about preserving the delicate pieces.

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