The growth of markets and consumerism in China’s post-Mao era of political and economic reform is a story familiar to many. By contrast, the Mao period (1949–1976)—rightly framed as a time of scarcity—initially appears to have had little material culture to speak of. Yet people attributed great meaning to materials and objects often precisely because they were rare and difficult to obtain. This first volume devoted to the material history of the period explores the paradox of material culture under Chinese Communist Party rule and illustrates how central materiality was to individual and collective desire, social and economic construction of the country, and projections of an imminent socialist utopia within reach of every man and woman, if only they worked hard enough.

Bringing together scholars of Chinese art, cinema, culture, performance, and more, this volume shares groundbreaking research on the objects and practices of everyday life in Mao’s China, from bamboo and bricks to dance and film. With engaging narratives and probing analysis, the contributors make a place for China’s experience in the history of global material culture and the study of socialist modernity.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Making Revolution Material / Jennifer Altehenger and Denise Y. Ho
1. Bamboo Objects and Socialist Construction / Jennifer Altehenger
2. The Brick / Cole Roskam
3. Design and Handicraft / Christine I. Ho
4. Dance Props and the Rural Imaginary / Emily Wilcox
5. Mobile Projectionists and the Things They Carried / Jie Li
6. Outside Objects and Material Propaganda / Denise Y. Ho
7. The Problematics of Plenty / Laurence Coderre
8. Nationalizing Food Provision in Beijing / Madeleine Yue Dong
9. One Country, Two Material Cultures / Jacob Eyferth
10. The Makings of China’s Cold War Motor City / Covell F. Meyskens
Afterword: Material Culture and the Socialist Uncanny in Mao’s China / Jonathan Bach