Cadbury Chinese Poster Collection

"HC2016-574: qian nian de ‘wu sa’!" Analysis

"HC2016-574: qian nian de ‘wu sa’!" Analysis
by Jenny Yung (Bryn Mawr College ‘20)

This poster refers to the May Thirtieth Movement that was birthed in Shanghai in 1925; this was a major labor and anti-imperialist movement that protested Japan’s involvement in China’s economy and the recent political turmoil that plagued China. Xu Xiaoxia created this political poster as a commemoration to the one year anniversary of May 30.

The caption at the top reads: "Qian nian de 'wu sa'! 前年的‘五卅’!“Last year’s ‘May 30th!’” The British man wields an ax that reads, “British Imperialism” whilst saying, “Continue cooperation!” On his leg hangs a toy gunboat (appropriately labeled 'gunboat'). The caption on the side reads, “Shanghai Trade Union Organization and Unification Committee," and the bloody letters on the chopping block translate as “Shanghai Settlement." The red letters on the bloody person reads, “Chinese person." The violence depicted in this image only shows a fraction of the effect felt by the May Thirtieth Movement.

It is impossible to understand the impact of the May Thirtieth Movement without tracing it back to its roots. China had just experienced many political disturbances as World War I had recently come to a close in 1918. As one of the Allied powers, China expected “independence, equality, [and] better standing in the community of nations," [1] however, as China itself was not a completely independent power, they did not get what they expected. While there were many foreign powers in China, this poster highlights two main countries that had a large presence in China: Britain and Japan.

There were many foreign powers that held a large about of authority in Shanghai as opposed to local Chinese powers despite existing formally under Chinese sovereignty. However, while the main power in Shanghai was Britain, Japan was rapidly turning into a strong imperialist power in China as well, and had begun exercising their power over the Chinese. Britain had already established their presence in China as a direct result of the Opium Wars that took place between 1839 and 1842. [2] Though Britain did not introduce opium to China, they illegally exported opium mainly from India to China that resulted in social and economic disruption. Thus, Britain was able to bully China into conceding to their imperialist power with the Shanghai International Settlement (1863). This settlement was born from the merging of the American and British enclaves based in Shanghai and allowed other countries to enter the settlement under treaty relations. At the end of World War I, the Paris Peace Conference of January 1919 permitted Japan to keep control over some territory in China. Thus, the Shanghai International Settlement coupled with Japan's permission to stay in China resulted in China's inability to become independent. [3] For these reasons, students in Beijing held a large demonstration on May Fourth, 1919 to "protest agains the actions of the Powers and the supine position of their own government." [4] There was not only dissatisfaction on a political front; the effects on the economy also greatly affected public resentment against the Japanese. 

Much of Japanese power depended on textiles, and when the Shanghai Tariff Conference of 1918 made importing Japanese cotton much more expensive, Japanese merchants began to move to China to set up cotton mills and establish their hold on the labor industry. [5] The labor conditions of the workforce were also abysmal. [6] The combination of competitive industrial tension angered workers and those dissatisfied with foreign powers eventually led to the large demonstration on May Thirtieth, 1925. 

On that date, the mostly student demonstrators gathered on Nanjing Road and began protesting for labor rights and anti-imperialism. [7] As the crowd became rowdier, police opened fire and killed nine people in total and wounding many others. [8] This incident was met with much appall and anger from the rest of China as the violence against unarmed students was unjustified. The police had already arrested peacefully protesting students earlier in the day, and the shooting sparked much controversy. The aftermath of the event led to more strikes throughout the country and a boycott of British and Japanese goods. 

This poster highlights the anger still felt by the majority of the Chinese and demonstrates a deliberate attempt to link Japan and Britain in their unified imperialist oppression of Shanghai and the Shanghai Settlement. The two men are wearing the British and Japanese flags. The little person on the cutting board has a bloody “Chinese man” carved into his thigh, and he is bleeding out on the Shanghai Settlement cutting board. This represents both the students who were killed in the Shanghai Settlement on May Thirtieth and the Chinese workers who were killed in resulting demonstrations in the Settlement. The lettering on the side of the poster reads: Shanghai Trade Union Organization and Unification Committee. This, coupled with the Chinese man on the cutting board, reflects a perception that the British and Japanese were breaking apart the union and not allowing good working conditions for the Chinese. The British man brandishes a bloody cleaver with the lettering “British Imperialism." The cleaver represents the British utilizing British laws and ideals to subdue the Chinese workforce under the guise of Chinese sovereignty, as the British man depicted is hacking a vulnerable man to pieces. Furthermore, the British man is holding on to the Japanese man’s arm, which highlights that these are the two powers that are working together to keep control in China. Though most of the anger was directed towards the Japanese, it was recognized that the British mainly held power in the Shanghai International Settlement. This poster subtly shows the power dynamic, as the British man is the one with a hand on the Japanese man, emphasizing that Britain has more power than the Japanese. However, they are still connected in their imperialist rules and are still exerting injustice on the Chinese.

The poster shows how deeply rooted rooted anti-imperialist views were in China. While it is impossible to fully understand the emotions and feelings of the Chinese during this time, this poster is able to capture and show a part of Chinese sentiment.  Ultimately, the poster displays the violence that occurred during this period and highlights how the Chinese felt about Britain and Japan’s hold in Shanghai.

[1] Richard W Rigby, The May 30th Movement, Australian National University Press (1980): 2. 
[2] Thomas Dormandy, Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream, Yale University Press (2012).
[3] Rigby, 30. 
[4] Ibid., 2.
[5] Ibid., 7.
[6] Ibid., 8.
[7] Ibid., 35. 
[8] Ibid., 36.

Dormandy, Thomas. Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream. Yale University Press, 2012.

Rigby, Richard W. The May 30th Movement. Australian National University Press, 1980.

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