Chairman Mao Badges: Symbols and Slogans of the Cultural Revolution

Wang, Helen. Chairman Mao badges : symbols and slogans of the Cultural Revolution. London : The British Museum Press, 2008. (“BM Research Publication” ; 169). ISBN 978-0-86159-169-5. URL : (consulté le 11 juillet 2018)

Introduction (extrait)

Circular badge, ‘Chairman Mao goes to Anyuan’ portrait

The starting point for this book is the very modest collection of almost 350 Chairman Mao badges at the British Museum. It is a small but manageable number from which to begin to explore the repertoire of symbolic imagery and inscriptions of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Serious collections of Mao badges in China start at 10,000 different specimens, and as a result, Chinese catalogues present hundreds, sometimes thousands, of badges. Yet they seldom explain the images or the texts in a consistent way. For Chinese collectors, editors and publishers, there is simply no need to include such basic information, unless there is something exceptional to say. But
for outsiders, general knowledge that is specific to a particular culture of a particular period can be incredibly difficult to grasp.


The symbols and slogans of the Cultural Revolution are certainly striking and memorable – they were designed to be so! In the pre-digital age, they appeared throughout China in brightly coloured propaganda posters, revolutionary songs, radio broadcasts, loudspeakers, newspapers, journals, comic books, handwritten big-character posters and more. In short, the same messages were to be found everywhere. They were instantly recognisable and immediately readable, even in the most abbreviated form: for example, a small red rectangle represents the Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao), and the tall triangle with a red dot at the top represents the revolutionary base in the Jinggangshan mountains. But these messages are compact codes, and the impact is only immediate if you can read them.

That is precisely my aim here: to present the British Museum collection of Mao badges, and to offer a reference guide for navigating through the symbols and slogans of the Cultural Revolution in different media. For this object-based catalogue I have broadly followed the model of the traditional British Museum coin catalogues, which  focus on a particular group of coins, issued in a specific location within a specific time period. They aim to explain all that can be seen on those coins by means of introductory narratives, a descriptive and illustrated catalogue, and lists and appendices of useful information. While they may seem empirical and old-fashioned
in style, they are the most comprehensive guides to the objects that one can find. The data is collected together and presented in a systematic way, thereby creating an easy reference guide for anyone wishing to identify coins of that particular series or to consult that series as part of a broader study.

Consulter l’ouvrage en ligne (téléchargement chapitre par chapitre)

Autres ressources sur les badges à l’effigie de Mao

  • Bill Bishop. Badges of Chairman Mao Zedong. 1996. URL : (consulté le 11 juillet 2018)
    [Graduate school on badges of Chairman Mao Zedong, and the cult of Mao in general. Written in 1995, the first comprehensive English-language look at the Mao badge phenomenon.]
  • Schrift, Melissa. Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge: The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult. Rutgers University Press, 2001. URL : (consulté le 11 juillet 2018)
  • : Site maintenu par un historien et collectionneur amateur, Clint Twist. URL : (consulté le 11 juillet 2018)

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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