British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 11 (2021)

Red Collections in Contemporary China: Towards a New Research Agenda

Emily Rebecca Williams
Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Enamel mugs with Chinese writing saying dongfang hong (the East is red)
Published June 29, 2021
How to Cite
Williams, E. (2021). Red Collections in Contemporary China. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 11, 71-90.


“Red Collecting” is a widespread phenomenon in contemporary China. It refers to the collecting of objects from the Chinese Communist Party’s history. Red Collecting has received only minimal treatment in English-language scholarly literature, much of which focuses on individual object categories (primarily propaganda posters and Chairman Mao badges) and overemphasises the importance of Cultural Revolution objects within the field. Because of this limited focus, the collectors’ motivations have been similarly circumscribed, described primarily in terms of either neo-Maoist nostalgia or the pursuit of profit. This article will seek to enhance this existing literature and, in doing so, offer a series of new directions for research. It makes two main arguments. First, that the breadth of objects incorporated within the field of Red Collecting is far broader than current literature has acknowledged. In particular, the importance of revolutionary-era (pre-1949) collections, as well as regional and rural collections is highlighted. Second, it argues that collectors are driven by a much broader range of motivations, including a variety of both individual and social motivations. Significantly, it is argued that collectors’ intentions and their understandings of the past do not always align; rather, very different understandings of China’s recent past find expression through Red Collecting. As such, it is suggested that Red Collecting constitutes an important part of contemporary China’s “red legacies,” one which highlights the diversity of memories and narratives of both the Mao era and the revolutionary period.  

Image © Hou Feng

  • Cultural Revolution,
  • red collecting,
  • red relics,
  • revolutionary era,
  • propaganda posters,
  • Mao badge
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