China’s political slogans

The Chinese Communist Party has always placed great emphasis on propaganda, and the slogan (口号 – kǒuhào) is one of the ways to achieve the goals of the propagandist. Usually slogans are short, easy to remember and carry an important idea, or a call to action phrases. The Chinese language is ideal for composing such phrases, because each character represents a word or a whole idea. So a slogan of four characters to express the same idea in English may well require at least six or more words for translation. The slogans used in various periods since 1949 reflect the changes in the policy pursued by the central government of China.

wèi rénmín fúwù
Serve the people!

The timeless slogan was first used in 1940. It is one of the few old political slogans still in demand today.

bǎihuā qífàng bǎijiāzhēngmíng
Let a hundred flowers bloom, let all scientists compete

This slogan, used during the “Hundred Flowers” period (1956-57), refers back to the distant past, during the Warring States period (476-221 BC) – then there were many different schools of philosophy in China. The modern Hundred Schools of Thought were critics of Mao’s Communist Party invited in late 1956, in part in response to the Hungarian uprising. The severity and scale of the discontent shown by the Hundred Flowers campaign greatly shocked the party leaders, and in 1957 many of those who offered their criticism were punished as part of the Anti-Right Campaign, which was launched to eradicate the “poisonous weeds” that had grown in such large quantities.

敢想 敢干
gǎn xiǎng gǎn gàn
Think boldly, act boldly!

The slogan of the Great Leap Forward in 1958-60, when Chairman Mao tried to inspire peasants to form communes and increase productivity to unheard of heights. It was believed that communism was inevitable and within a few years it would overtake the industrialized countries of the West.

农业 学大寨
nóngyè xué dà zhài
Learn agriculture from Dazhai

Dazhai is a village in Shanxi Province, northwest China. In 1964, she was an example of what can be achieved through self-reliance and collective effort. From then until 1979, the village was one of the most famous places in China, and Brigadier Chen Yonggui traveled around the world talking about Dazhai’s bouncy spirit. After 1979, the example of Dazhai was rejected, and from 1983 the village was transferred to private ownership.

造反 有理
zàofǎn yǒulǐ
Riot is justified

Krasnogvardeyskiy slogan of the early period of the cultural revolution (1966-68). Chairman Mao called for an attack on virtually the entire existing party apparatus, and this rebellion extended to all forms of government: parents, teachers, doctors, scientists, musicians, artists and intellectuals of all kinds were targeted. Many committed suicide, and many were exiled to work in remote areas.

pī lín pī kǒng
Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius!

The campaign against Lin Biao began in 1971 after he and his family died in a plane crash. Lin was initially accused of being ultra-left, but later (somewhat strangely) transferred to the category of ultra-right, and in 1974 he was branded as an admirer of the reactionary philosophy of Confucius. The campaign to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius was in fact a veiled attack on Zhou Enlai and his policies, which were seen as pro-modernization and less “radical” than those of Mao himself.

粉碎 四人帮
fěnsuì sìrénbāng
Beat the Gang of Four!

Chairman Mao died in September 1976, and soon after it became clear that Jiang Qing and her followers were campaigning for Hua’s removal, calling him the “leader of the revisionists.” Hua acted decisively, arresting Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, and Yao Wen Yuan (the so-called “gang of four”). This marked the beginning of a series of radical political changes following Mao’s death, all of which essentially rejected what the “ultra-left” is now called politics that Mao had advocated since 1958. The sudden fall of the Gang of Four was followed by a nationwide campaign that first vilified them personally, and then gradually moved away from their individual crimes to the “wrong” policies they supported. This slogan was only the nucleus in the early stages of the campaign against the Gang of Four.

shíshì qiú shì
Look for the truth in facts

This is the credo of the reformers who, since 1977, have been “setting the political agenda for China after Mao’s death.” It meant that facts, not ideology, should be the criterion for the “correctness” of a policy; politics must work in practice. Deng Xiaoping said, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” Catching mice (expertise) has come to play a much larger role than just a political metaphor. This, of course, is in complete contrast to Mao’s sober empiricism. According to Mao, the stupid old man (a character from an ancient Chinese fable retold by Mao to encourage people to keep fighting despite great hardships) showed that “human will conquers heaven” and refuted the skepticism of so-called experts.

实现 四个 现代化
shíxiàn sì gè xiàndàihuà
In four upgrades!

The four modernizations are the modernization of science, industry, agriculture and security. The reformers viewed China’s modernization in all of these areas as the primary challenge facing China in the late twentieth century. Science, rather than mass movements and an ideological upheaval, was seen as the means by which China would achieve socialism.

只 生 一个 孩子 好
zhǐ shēng yīgè háizi hǎo
Having only one child is good!

After Mao’s death, the Chinese government was seriously concerned about the rapid population growth. On April 14, 1989, China celebrated the birthday of its 1.1 billionth resident with exhortations to strengthen family planning. Predictions of severe trials, even hunger, if growth does not diminish, have been reinforced by a campaign to promote the One Child Policy. It was not entirely successful, in part because it is difficult to impose sanctions on couples in rural areas who have more than one child.

Even today, slogans still emerge and will continue to appear, as governments of all political orientations must promote their ideas to the masses, and slogans are a convenient and effective way to package those ideas. The huge roadside slabs in Beijing and other major cities were completely covered with quotes from Mao, Marx, Engels and Lenin; now, for the most part, they have disappeared, giving way to commercial advertisements and government posters of lesser political intensity: promoting a health campaign or birth control. Nevertheless, slogans are still a significant part of political life.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments