China Visual Arts Project

The China Visual Arts Project was founded in 1977 by the writer and journalist John Gittings, then Senior Lecturer in Chinese at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL). It was initially called the China Visual Arts Project, to provide a teaching and learning resource on the Mao era.

Over the years it grew, with contributions from colleagues, students and friends who studied and travelled in China during the 1960s and 1970s. A number of posters were later acquired at auction. In total, the project has acquired over 800 propaganda posters, dating from the 1940s to the 1980s. It also has a wealth of books, objects and ephemera, such as toys, badges, ration coupons, postcards and picture books (lianhuanhua), both from and about the Mao era and the early reform era.

Gittings left PCL in 1983 for The Guardian newspaper. The collection remained in the School of Languages for some time before moving to the Centre for the Study of Democracy, then the Contemporary China Centre. In 2015 the collection was transferred to the University of Westminster Archive. Although informally known as the Chinese Poster Collection for some years, the decision was made to revert to the collection’s original name, in order to reflect the true scope of its contents and the original aims of the project.

In 2016 Cassie Lin, a doctoral student and archival assistant at the University of Westminster, made a short film about the China Visual Arts Project. The video, which you can watch below, introduces the collection and provides Cassie’s personal perspective, as a Chinese national. You can also read Cassie’s blogs on the collection in the section under the video.

To find out more about visiting the University of Westminster Archive, please visit and follow them on Twitter @uniwestarc.


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