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  Written by
  Sharla A. Stewart

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The collecting mania



Collective efforts
Propagating propaganda

During her years at the U of C, Deborah Levey, AB'73, began accumulating propaganda from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. "Posters and sets of postcards," she says, "depicting the few permissible revolutionary operas and ballets were cheap and colorful-bright red predominates!-and a few dollars' worth covered many square feet of plain dorm wall space."

PHOTO:  Red Detachment of Women, like all permissible operas in China, says Deborah Levey, "ends with the people triumphant over the monsters."

Levey no longer considers her stuff cheap wallpaper. Rather, her collection's "iconic" breadth is a source of pride. In addition to posters and postcards, she has stamps, sheet music, records, paper-cuts, a subscription to Beijing Review, souvenirs from Radio China International and Radio Peking, and several texts instructing their audiences on serving the workers, peasants, and soldiers. Her most prized items are two articles on the 1976 pro- Chou En-lai "disturbances" at Tiananmen Square. One, from the July 1976 China Pictorial, calls the event "counter-revolutionary" and the militia that "smashed" it heroic, while a Dec. 1, 1978, Peking Review article classifies the disturbances a "completely revolutionary action by the masses." Each has an illustration with the appropriate revolutionaries being honored-receiving flowers from, says Levey, "possibly the same set of glossy children."

PHOTO:  A 1943 poster by Henry Koerner, originally distributed by the U.S. Office of War Information, from Alison Kent's collection.

Alison Kent, MBA'91, collects World War II propaganda posters. The first of her 30 she purchased 17 years ago in Philadelphia. Showing a long line of soldiers boarding a train, the poster is one of many admonishing loose-lipped American civilians: "If you tell where they're going they may never get there. Don't talk about troop movements." Kent says she loves the "ad man" stylized art of these posters. "They directed the population much more than one would think possible," she notes, "given that they were just sheets of paper."

  OCTOBER 2001

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