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date: 31 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines two categories of material culture from the People’s Republic of China: the remnants of pre-1949 “old society,” designated the “four olds” and the focus of confiscations during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), and the products of “new society,” made for socialist New China. Using archival material and oral histories, this chapter demonstrates how objects were associated with class during the Cultural Revolution. Objects and class were related in two significant ways: an object’s class category came from the labor that begat it, and—as possessions were confiscated during the Red Guards’ house searches—the class status of the owner was reflected in the object. This chapter also considers the post-Mao afterlives of everyday objects as collectors’ items and the limits on their interpretation in private museums. Both socialist and postsocialist China have found it easier to confiscate/collect objects of the past rather than to grapple with their symbolism, which has become both more powerful and more diverse than ever prescribed by revolution.

Keywords: China, Cultural Revolution, material culture, four olds, class, collecting, museums

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