Exhibition of everyday items illustrates changes in Chinese daily life
More than 500 everyday items and old pictures that illustrate the changes in people's lives in the Mainland over the past half century will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (July 6) until September 26.
Entitled "The Flavours of Everyday Life in China: Memories from the Past Half Century", the exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Chaoyang District Culture Centre, Beijing, and organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History. Showcasing everyday items used by people from the 1950s to the 1990s, the exhibition vividly portrays typical aspects of daily life in China during this period and illustrates the material changes people have witnessed since economic reform and the open-door policy were implemented in the late 1970s.
The exhibition was officially opened today (July 5) by the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Ms Betty Fung; Director of the Chaoyang District Culture Committee, Beijing, Ms Huang Xiaowei; Vice Director of the Chaoyang District Culture Committee, Beijing, and Curator of the Chaoyang District Culture Centre, Beijing, Mr Xu Wei; and Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, Ms Esa Leung.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition, Mrs Fung noted that objects related to historical events and people were usually perceived as valuable testimonials of history and thus became collectable items. In comparison, she said, objects related to ordinary people tend to be overlooked and vanish with the changing times. Mrs Fung pointed out that the simplest daily articles are, in fact, records of the collective social memories of a certain generation, and serve as a medium for later generations to understand the development of a society.
"Even common everyday articles have stories to tell and serve as records of history, and they deserve to be treasured and preserved properly," Mrs Fung said.
"The exhibits on display not only shed light on the daily lives of people in Mainland China from different perspectives, but also help us learn that people had not given up their pursuit of better living even in times of material scarcity."
Since the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, China's development and resource allocation focused on heavy industry, national defence and related infrastructure. Agriculture and the light industries that served the needs of people's everyday lives were sidelined over the years. The pace of economic development was further disrupted by social and political changes, exacerbating shortage in the supply of products for everyday use. It wasn't until the late 1970s when China implemented economic reform and the open-door policy that the standard of living could undergo drastic changes.
In the mid-1950s, the government implemented a rationing system to ensure that people's basic needs could be met during a time when scarcity of food and everyday goods prevailed. People could only make purchases in designated quantities and at specified times and venues by using ration coupons with expiration dates. A great variety of ration coupons and ration books existed for procuring food, fabric, cotton, oil, meat, eggs, fish, soybean products, sugar, coal, cigarettes, soap, kerosene, salt, matches and almost all other everyday goods. Even if people had money, they could not buy anything without ration coupons. The saying, "Those with coupons go everywhere; those without stay where they are", intended as a joke, aptly reflected the mood that characterised fulfilling basic needs and the logistics of that period.
After the founding of the PRC, society upheld the ideals of an assiduous and frugal lifestyle. Goods for everyday use comprised only a small share of the country's industrial production before the implementation of China's economic reform and the open-door policy in the late 1970s. Attire no longer signified personal preference but a political attitude. The wardrobe of national leaders served as an example for the common people to follow. National leaders like Mao Zedong liked to wear a modified version of the Zhongshan suit, a style first introduced by Dr Sun Yat-sen. Mostly available in grey and blue, the suit became standard attire until the 1980s and was called "The People's Costume". During the Cultural Revolution, Mao received the Red Guards in Tiananmen Square wearing a grass-green army uniform and a red armband. The people followed this style. This trend toward monotony and uniformity in fashion was unprecedented and characteristic of the social and political environment.
Between the 1950s and 1980s, when entertainment was rather monotonous, comic strips provided many people with a sort of spiritual nourishment. Children, as well as grown-ups, loved to read them. The contents of comic strips changed as the socio-political environment evolved. For example, in the early years of the country's founding, in addition to classical literature and historical stories, many comic strips celebrated the spirit of revolution and heroism. During the Cultural Revolution, revolutionary operas were featured in comics.
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao's portrait, quotations and instructions could be seen everywhere, from public spaces such as streets, shops, government units and schools to everyday goods such as drinking glasses and mirrors. Many everyday goods carried distinctive and identifying emblems of the era.
Economic reform and the open-door policy were implemented in the late 1970s. As a result, China's economy took flight. All kinds of electrical appliances such as tape recorders, televisions, washing machines and refrigerators entered common households and greatly improved people's material standard of living. The introduction of foreign popular culture, consisting of Hong Kong and Japanese TV dramas as well as popular music, also gave people more entertainment choices. Moreover, the provision of everyday goods shifted from planned supply to free market trade from the mid-1990s, which brought about fundamental changes in people's lives during this time.
To tie in with the exhibition, a series of lectures and workshops will be organised by the museum. On July 16, a lecture introducing the exhibition will be given by the Assistant Curator of the Museum of History, Mr Cheung Yui-sum. Another two lectures, "Those Were the Days in Shanghai" by renowned columnist Mr Li Shun-yan and "The Society Context of the Urban Fertility Transition Among the Working Class Population in the 1960s" by the Instructor of the Anthropology Department, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dr Wang Danning, will be held on July 23 and August 20 respectively. The lectures, to be conducted in Cantonese and Putonghua respectively, will be held in the museum's Lecture Hall from 3pm to 5pm. Admission to the lectures is free and seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For details, please call 2724 9082.
The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm on Mondays to Saturdays and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission to the museum is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's website, hk.history.museum, or call 2724 9042.
Ends/Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Ration coupons for industrial goods emerged in the early 1960s. They were mostly used for the purchase of a wide range of manufactured daily goods including small items like aluminium meal boxes, washbasins and umbrellas, and large household items like wardrobes and sewing machines. Industrial coupons were also required for the purchase of some luxury goods, such as watches and bicycles. Pictured is an industrial coupon issued in Beijing in 1972 that is now in the collection of the Chaoyang District Culture Centre, Beijing.
In the 1980s, almost every household had aluminium meal boxes. They were the only ones available at that time. During lunch, people would collect their meals with food ration coupons and then sit around, eating and chatting together. The meal box pictured is in the collection of the Chaoyang District Culture Centre, Beijing.
Before the implementation of economic reform and the open-door policy, almost all clothes were blue, grey, black or green, as shown in this photo taken in Tianjin in 1972 by Hu Wugong and provided by Guangzhou Integrated Image Co Ltd.
"Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung" contained the sayings of the communist revolutionary leader and used red - the colour of the revolution - for its cover. It was, therefore, also called the "Little Red Book". The picture shows the standard props for photo shoots during the Cultural Revolution: the "Little Red Book" and badges featuring a portrait of Mao Zedong. The photo, taken by Bu Pingyuan, is provided by Guangzhou Integrated Image Co Ltd.
After Mao Zedong received the Red Guards in Tiananmen Square for the first time on August 18, 1966, the country's Red Guards were all on the road for a "Great Linking Up". Consequently, the transportation system was overloaded and the Central Government called on the Red Guards to have the Red Army travel on foot. Most of the Red Guards participating in this kind of long march held red flags and carried backpacks. They sang revolutionary songs and chanted revolutionary slogans as they marched on in neat formations. Upon arriving at Tiananmen Square, they would take photographs holding the "Little Red Book" and were in high spirits, as shown in this photo provided by Guangzhou Integrated Image Co Ltd and Ma Hongjie.
In 1968, Mao Zedong said, "It is necessary for educated youth to go to the countryside so that they can be re-educated by the poor and lower-middle peasants." This marked the start of the large-scale "Down to the Countryside Movement" that involved over 10 million young people. The educated youth mostly went to remote and backward rural areas in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang. The photo, taken by He Shirao and Jin Rongshun in Jia county, Hebei province, in 1971, shows the educated youth getting ready for labour. The photo was provided by Guangzhou Integrated Image Co Ltd.
An early mobile phone from the 1990s. When this bulky type of mobile phone was introduced in Mainland China, it was generally called an "older brother". This type of mobile phone served as a status symbol for rich men at the time. A man wearing a suit - with its label still attached to the cuff - and leather shoes while carrying a "brick" in his hand might look quite ridiculous by today's standards, but in the early 1990s he was patently impressive. This photo is from the collection of the Chaoyang District Culture Centre, Beijing.
The opening ceremony of “The Flavours of Everyday Life in China: Memories from the Past Half Century” exhibition was held today (July 5) at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The picture shows the officiating guests cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony. They are, from left, Chief Curator of the Museum of History, Ms Esa Leung; Director of the Chaoyang District Culture Committee, Beijing, Ms Huang Xiaowei; Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Ms Betty Fung; and Vice Director of the Chaoyang District Culture Committee, Beijing, and Curator of the Chaoyang District Culture Center, Beijing, Mr Xu Wei.
Officiating guests view the exhibition.
Officiating guests view the exhibition.