Author Archives: nshea

Evolving meaning of the Red Guard Uniform


China Through The Looking Glass, The Red Detachment of Women, 1971.

Communist China is marked by a time under the reign of Chairman Mao from the 1950’s through the 70’s until Mao’s death in 1976. Mao promoted ideas of uniformity and collectivity in society as a way to unite the people of China across different social classes and professions. It was a highly militaristic time as Mao encouraged the rebellion against capitalism and a lot of violence entailed. This time period really influenced the style and fashion in every day life as shown in the image I chose. This image leads me to make the claim that communist fashion has evolved from its original militaristic purpose and meaning to a whole new representation and expression of creativity during the late Mao and post Mao era

clarify “a whole new representation and expression of creativity in post-mao China” what are the new representation and expression?

The clothing choice:

The women in this image are wearing a form of the communist red guard uniform. We can see the classic jacket, hat and red arm band. This image was taken in 1971, which is in the final few years of the communist time period under Mao when fashion styles were beginning to change. The choice to wear the red guard uniform clearly makes this picture a representation of the communist time.

explain why the attire choice articulates representation of the communist time?

The uniformity:

Every women in this image is wearing the exact same thing. The repetition of their outfits really emphasizes the importance of the uniform. This uniformity displays the ideals Mao encouraged of being one collective unit working together. Not only are the women all wearing the same thing, but they are all in the exact same pose. The women are literally working as one unit, moving the same way. They represent an army in a time period so reliant on military forces.

define the concept of “uniformity”: what is wrong with that?

The juxtaposition of femininity and masculinity:

Another thing I noticed, is the juxtaposition of the pose the women are in and the weapons they are holding. While, this position puts the women on their tip toes in a very delicate pose, the guns they are holding paint them in a more masculine, rough and aggressive light. This shows the complexity of women at this time, are they delicate beautiful figures or should they be empowered and strong like men?

yes, what does the concept of masculinity mean?

Female objectification:

Along the lines of the female representation, I find this image to be objectifying women through the clothing they wear. They are wearing a form of the original red guard military suit, but it has been adapted for their female body. They are wearing short shorts and high socks to elongate and emphasize their legs. It sexualizes these women unnecessarily and takes away from any empowerment they may hold. I find this sexualization of the female body in such a symbolic uniform a way to

masculinization as well as sexualization: possible indications?

nice structure and work on connotation

Nennu and Shunu in Modern China


Photograph by Frederic J. Brown. Getty Images. 2003.


The image above is taken at the first Miss Plastic Surgery Pageant in Bejing China in 2003. The pageant was created by women who had been turned away from China’s beauty pageants because they had undergone plastic surgery. They decided to create a pageant strictly for women who had been altered as a way to celebrate their crafted appearance. This picture leads me to make the claim that China’s cosmetic industry and societal pressure to appear young and beautiful runs so deeply that such things as “Miss Plastic Surgery” have become socially accepted.

nice to make a thesis statement

To support my claim I will further analyze this picture’s denotations and the cultural connotations that follow.

Background, Foreground and Focus

As we can see, the picture’s focus is the winning contestant front and center. The photographer chose to place this subject in the foreground to draw our attention to her. Looking more into this choice, we see that the photographer puts a lot of importance on the winner. Clearly this woman is being celebrated for winning the pageant. She is being honored for having done multiple surgeries altering her appearance to be seen as beautiful. In contrast to this, we look at the background and notice all the other contestants. There appears to be 2 runner ups and the rest of the “losers” in the far back. The women in the back aren’t even in focus. These photographer’s choices can only mean that these losing women aren’t worth focusing on or aren’t as important as the most beautiful winner. Again, there is such an importance set on this winning female for the best surgery results.

The Appearance

Looking more closely at the actual women we can see their appearances. They all appear young, thin and in the eyes of the public, very beautiful. We can see on the winning contestant and other women that they are all very made up ranging from cosmetics to hair style to dress. Their faces we know have been altered through surgery so we can assume such things as their skin has been tightened, their noses redone and possibly eye structure as well. The connotations that are implied through all these observations tell us that these are the ideal features for women to possess. The fact that the winner has bright defined cheekbones or perfect untouched skin suggests that everyone should strive to appear that way because that has been determined as beautiful.


My article was very focused on the concept of nennu and shunu. This picture is a great representation of these terms in every day life. As I mentioned earlier, these women appear very young as their skin is bright and not wrinkled. They seem in shape as well. This is the embodiment of the term nennu translating to “tender”. The reality of this picture though is that not all these women are actually so young. A lot of contestants were middle aged women who underwent surgery to appear younger also known as the transition from shunu (ripe) to nennu. This desire to appear young is so strong that grown women are desperately trying to alter themselves through surgery.

well structures and supported piece. what does the transition from shunu to nennu via surgical operation suggest to us?




The Varying Uniforms of the Red Army

Propaganda poster for the Chinese People's Liberation Army, with Red Army and Red Guard members charging forward holding Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book (color lithograph), 1971. This was the first poster in the set ‘Posters showing measures against atomic, chemical and bacterial warfare' (Fang yuanzi fang huaxue fang xijun tietu), which stoked fears of major attacks from the West. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Propaganda poster for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, with Red Army and Red Guard members charging forward holding Mao Zedong¬ís Little Red Book (color lithograph), 1971.  (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

The Red Army emerged during the Cultural Revolution of Chairman’s Mao reign over China. This rebellion is marked by a time of violence, destruction and loyalty to the Communist ideology sparked by Mao. There is a strong sartorial influence during this time period when the Mao suit was popular and the Red Guard uniform was widely adopted. In this WordPress, I will analyze the dress of this propaganda picture and the symbolic meaning behind the surface layer. Finally, I will conclude that the author of this picture successfully creates an inviting propaganda poster through their intentional decisions with color choice, character expression and symbolic meaning.

Starting with my first observations, or denotations, I notice the dominate red color that is a typical representation of this time period. Also, in the foreground of the picture are four people, a woman and three men who are presumably part of Mao’s Red Army fighting for his cause. They each wear a different color: green, white, blue and brown. The woman in white is holding a weapon as well as the man in blue. The man in green holds out Mao’s Little Red Book. Behind them in the background we can see a crowd of people all rioting with weapons as well. The four in the front all have expressions of determination and look out into the distance heroically.

Looking deeper into the connotations of these observations, the dominant red color is a strong symbol of the Communist period. It is a powerful color and a good way to convey strength in a propaganda poster. Focusing on the four front members, each once represents a different variety of uniform. The man in green wears a military uniform, the woman wears white, a color of privilege and high status as she probably works in a lab. The man in blue is a worker, typically a factory worker and the man in brown represents the peasant population. By having all these people working together it shows the unity of the Revolution. Mao’s plan was to unite all the people of China regardless of gender or class. Their expressions are very telling as well. They look aggressive and determined to fight. By looking off into the distance they create a sense of heroism and make this propaganda poster appealing. It is successful in inviting people to want to join the movement.

how about pair the denotation with the connotation. for instance, the four figures (denotation) as the leading social-political subject (connotation); the uniform (denotation) that defines its social-political identity (connotation) ….

Paris Hilton Modern Take on the Qipao


Image Citation: Source: DailyMail. November 2007.

Above are two images of celebrity, Paris Hilton, taken of her on a visit to China. These images struck me as they are representative of the “modern” qipao and display a western influence. The qipao was traditionally viewed as the official national dress of China in the 19th century, but has since returned and evolved into a fashion that has even translated to the Western culture. I would like to discuss the deeper meaning behind these two pictures through the details of the dress and the symbolism behind who is wearing them. I’ll start with my immediate observations looking at the pictures as a whole. The first image shows Paris in an extremely sheer and see though black qipao. There are some aspects consistent with the traditional qipao, like the high collar, sleeveless top and neck cut outs. The dress is very tight, and fitting to her body showing off her feminine shape. In the second image, the color red jumps out at me. This qipao is far more similar to the authentic traditional qipao with its silk material, high collar and leg slit. Both of these images seem to be taken by a professional photographer and aim to display Paris as highly fashionable with an oriental twist to a western audience.

The two images illustrate the Western culture adopting traditional and meaningful Chinese wear and altering it for their own purpose. To support my claim, I would like to further analyze my first reactions of these images. As I mentioned earlier, the first image is quite revealing and it provokes a far more sexual perspective. The see through material shows off Paris’ breast and feminine shape promoting the idea that the qipao is something that invites the male gaze. In the mirror reflection we can even see a man looking at Paris. The second image appears warm and inviting through the dominant red, a color that is closely associated with romance, love, and sexual implications. The qipao that Paris wears is very short and has a high slight, once again over sexualizing this dress.

Through the semiotic analysis, I explored the controversial topic of appreciating vs appropriating another culture’s dress. Is it okay for a big western celebrity to be wearing something to special and specific to the Chinese culture? It is debatable, but to me, I worried whether the highly sexual aspect to both qipao’s was insulting to the traditional history behind the qipao. Knowing who Paris Hilton is, these images made me feel as though the qiapo was just a costume for her to wear for fun.

critical question raised: appreciating or appropriating, which can be used as thesis seeking question. strengthen the connotation part

Footbinding Sexualized

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.15.13 PM

Source: Artstor, Title: “Erotica: Lover Delights in the sight of her Tiny Feet
Chun gong hua: hu xiang ai fu”, 19th Century.

In this picture we see into the private life of a woman and man presumably husband and wife. The man is leisurely laid back resting on a bed while he admires and holds the small bound feet of this woman. At the time, bound feet were a sign of femininity and thought to have put women in a more domestic position by essentially crippling them and limiting their mobility to ensure dependence on men. In this picture, we are exposed to this misogynistic dynamic as it is the female on display and the male enjoying as the viewer. Ultimately, I think the body language depicted in this picture speaks to the symbolism of footbinding as beautiful, an embellishment of the female body and as a sexual object.

The man is in a relaxed posture enjoying while the woman displays her foot allowing him to fondle it. Both of their facial expressions would suggest pleasure and content with the beauty of the bound feet. The placement of the picture, a bedroom, reveals a very concealed part of a couple’s private life and implies sexual undertones to the man and woman’s interaction. On another note, based off of the decoration of the bed sheets, nice clothing the pair wears and the fashionable style of the woman’s hair I would deduce this is a higher class couple. It speaks more to the elegance and status of the woman’s bound feet because she is wealthy enough to be able to bind her feet because it is not necessary for her to work. I find that the color blue is very dominant in this picture as both the woman and man are wearing it as well as the bed sheets. Blue can be perceived as a very elegant color as it is often used in traditional Chinese porcelain and fine china.

In conclusion, this image offers a lot of little signs to overall depict the dynamic between men and women with their feet bound. It also allow us to see what went on behind closed doors in the private life of Chinese women and men. One aspect of bound feet was its connection to sexual fantasy and fetish. It was a symbol of a women’s sexuality, beauty and high class.

make a central thesis statement first, then support it via the explanation of how the visual denotations connotate social-cultural meanings