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Thomas Warham

MA work

Chairman Mao’s parades: spectacle and spectatorship in the festivities of Chinese National Day, 1949-1976

During the Mao period (1949-1976), the parades of Chinese National Day showcased a diverse array of design. Twenty-two grand parades were held annually on 1 October in and around Tiananmen Square, Beijing between 1949 and 1970. The parades featured various different types of designed elements that promoted the interests of the Chinese Communist Party. Calligraphy, portraits and flags were present alongside floats and choreographed bodies. These visual mechanisms were used to create an idealised portrayal of the newly formed People’s Republic of China. The CCP endeavoured to unify disparate ethnic groups, build a modern military, develop a complex industrial base and raise living standards. The aesthetics of the parades changed to reflect contemporary policies, engaging nationalism and communism with traditional Chinese culture and utopian images of the future. These different ideas served to solidify the power and control of the Politburo, culminating in the absolute authority of Chairman Mao’s cult of personality.


  • Thomas Warham
  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2014

  • The patriotic celebrations of the People’s Republic of China have aroused interest from observers throughout contemporary history. From 1949 to 1970, the Communist Party of China mobilised the Beijing National Day (1 October) parade as a means to publicise party policy on both a national and international level. The festivities demonstrated how the ruling elite co-opted nationalism as a persuasive tool to advance the aims and objectives of the Chinese Communist Party. The creation of the annual 1 October parades were one example of a wide array of propaganda created by the Politburo to promote their interests and maintain their authority.

    As a carefully constructed and imaginatively designed public event, the parades drew upon select cultural motifs in order to create an eye-catching, nation-state aesthetic suitable for the evolving ideologies of Chinese communism. By focusing on the specific visual mechanisms employed by the Chinese state as part of a continually shifting national identity, the complexity of the political ritual may be more clearly understood. Calligraphy, portraiture, flags, floats and the human body were analysed as individual elements in relation to the parade medium. It is through ritual performance and collective social spectacle that nationalism gained widespread support in New China during the period. Analysing how the Mao-era National Day parades were designed elucidates why they proved a viable method for the dissemination of a wide variety of cultural, economic and political objectives that were encompassed under the wider aegis of Chinese nationalism.

  • Degrees

  • BA History of Art, University College London, 2012; Art Foundation, Sculpture Pathway, Chelsea College of Art, 2009
  • Awards

  • Anthony Gardner Travel Award, 2013