China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper examines depictions of oil production and consumption in Maoist visual culture. The first section focuses on the 1950s. It shows that over the course of the decade images of oil shifted from having a significant consumer bent to being almost exclusively centered on the hard-working oil worker and the employment of petroleum for productive purposes. The second section explores imagery of oil during the Great Leap Forward. It demonstrates that in tandem with the Chinese Communist Party’s drive to rapidly transform the People’s Republic of China into a communist society, utopian visions of oil usage emerged in which widespread consumption displaced the earlier tropes of the stalwart laborer and oil as a means of increasing production. The next section presents the resurgent productivist ethos that developed around visual representations of the manufacture and utilization of petroleum at the Daqing oilfield, which became the dominant model of how oil was visually portrayed for the remainder of the Maoist period. The third section studies images of Red Guard oil consumption during the Cultural Revolution and argues that Red Guard oil expenditures pushed back against the overwhelmingly productivist petroculture of the Mao era. The final section traces the decline of the oil worker as a national motif in the early 1980s and the emergence of a new consumer culture of oil.