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Propaganda represents the communication of information or ideas aimed to influence the audience s view and position on subjects. Propaganda usually produces an emotional response within the audience, rather than rational response; therefore, it is not aimed to appeal to intellect (Shah, A 2005). Propaganda posters are commonly used by governments all around the world during war eras to gain support and communicate ideas to its people. In this research paper, I will analyse the poster The Commune s Canteen according to the first and second order of signification and also explore the myth and gender ideologies conveyed within. Additionally, I will discuss the significance and relations between war, propaganda, and propaganda posters in China during the time of the Great Leap Forward, which will aid in the analysis of myth and ideologies.
The commune s canteen is a propaganda poster from China during the period of Great Leap Forward, which was between 1956 and 1960 (International Institute of Social History, 2009). The government led by Mao Zedong at the time created the Great Leap Forward as an economic project to show the Soviet Union that the Chinese approach to economic development was more vibrant and successful than the Soviet model. Chinese people were to go all out on the work field to make the transition from socialism to communism (International Institute of Social History, 2009).
The first order of signification, according to Barthes model is the denotation of signs. Denotation is similar to the dictionary meanings of things. It is when everyone interprets certain signs in the same manner (Kim, K.L 1996, pp.24-25). Therefore, denotative meanings are objective.
In the poster The commune's canteen , a young female waitress and an older male customer are denoted. In the foreground, a dark skinned, rough looking man with a towel wrapped on his head and another hanging off his left shoulder wears a dark coloured traditional Chinese outfit. He sits at a table with a plate of vegetable and two steamed buns. With a bowl of noodle on his left hand and both chopsticks and another bun on the other hand, he smiles at the young women on the right, standing behind him. The young woman has pale skin with blush and a small ribbon tied on her short black hair. In an orange coat and white apron, she carries a basket full of the same steamed buns which the man is eating. In the background, a lively restaurant is depicted with tables of people eating, Chinese style wooden windows, curtains tied up showing another room with people in it, poster, menus, and decorations hanging everywhere on the wall and off the ceiling, and steaming baskets with more buns in it. There are four lines written in Chinese on the bottom of the poster which translates to; the commune's canteen is powerful , the dishes are deliciously made , eat as you wish to eat , and production ambition therefore rises .
Second order of signification refers to connotation of signs within a culture. It includes both the signifier and signified and is associated with the creation of myth. Unlike the first order of signification, connotation is when people add various meanings to signs which vary from people to people based on their experiences and feelings (Kim, K.L 1996). Therefore, connotation is subjective. Myth is produced in the second order of signification and in a semiotic sense means a culture s way of understanding and interpreting signs. Myth uses an existing sign and turning it into a signifier for another sign (Bignell, J 1997, p.16).
The image of the man and woman in the poster The commune's canteen can be connoted as a life style lived by Chinese people in that particular era. In the late 1950s, during the Cold During the war, also known as the time of Great Leap Forward for China, the Chinese government planned to subsidize small community and service facilities (Croll, E 1983, p.7) and a high portion of women had been employed to work as child care givers, cooks and nurses. The government led by Mao Zedong was going through a rough time, which included the Cold War with the United States, and also to make the transition from socialism to communism at the same time. In order to increase efficiency in production, communes were formed all over the country including mess halls serving free food. Meals in the canteens of the people's communes are free, but compulsory (International Institute of Social History, 2009). Instead of eating with families, people eat with their collective. The poster tires to promote the benefits of a collectivized life style as healthy and up lifting by showing the colourful decorations on the ceiling and wall, and through texts down the bottom. However, this is contradicted as the only foods shown in the poster are steamed buns, a plate of green vegetable, and noodle.
The visual and written texts on this poster created various myths. Myth in a semiotic sense means a culture s way of understanding and interpreting signs. The image of the man sitting down, eating and the women standing behind him holding a basket of food reinforces the myth that women are inferior to men and that it is natural and right for women to be serving men and supporting men from behind them. Even though both of the man and women in the poster appears to be workers, the man seems to be more superior than the women as he is in the foreground and therefore, the third line on the bottom of the poster which says You eat as you wish is indicating to men, suggesting the male dominance as a part of the revolution in China. This myth is also created by the facial expressions on their faces, with the man and women smiling, representing that they are happy with what their status in society.
Based on the analysis of the second order of signification, gender ideologies perpetrated through the poster The commune's canteen can be exposed. According to Croll (1983, p.8), ideological constraints and lack of education are two major reason for Chinese women to inhibit further changes in their position at that time. In the poster, it is obvious that stereotypes of the traditional roles of both men and women have been engraved into the mind and lives of Chinese people. The gender ideologies of men being more important and should be more respected as they work to contribute to the government, like the man portrayed in the poster, wearing towels and sitting down eating; while the woman stands behind him to serve him food, demonstrates gender inequality.
In conclusion, propaganda posters play an important role in any war as it is an efficient tool used by governments to gain support from its people and not let its people to be effected by views from the opposition. Propaganda works because people wish to believe in the best of themselves and their country. The poster The commune s canteen is an example of a government s strategy to make the Chinese people see the Great Leap Forward period of time in an optimistic way. By analysing the first and second order of significations of the poster, myth and gender ideologies within the poster suggests a male dominant society at the time.