The ceramics in this section illustrate the People’s Republic of China’s engagement with the broader world. Although the nation was notoriously insular during the 1960s and early 70s, China actively encouraged Communist and revolutionary movements in developing nations in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia and sometimes provided technological or economic support. During the Cultural Revolution, many works were made celebrating China’s role as a “big brother” to other nations struggling against capitalism and Western imperialism. For the PRC, the Communist cause was not merely a domestic, but an international issue. Mao was depicted as the leader of this multinational struggle as illustrated in works such as “Continue the Revolution.”
China also competed with Western powers— especially the United States and the United Kingdom—in the race to industrialize. This competition, like the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, was part of Mao’s strategy to prove the superiority of Communism as an economic model over Capitalism. Propagandistic sculptures depicting Chinese rockets encouraged citizens to increase Chinese military power and technology in order to surpass Western countries.
However, despite these hostile attitudes to the West, China began to open communications with America in the early 1970s after nearly 20 years of nonexistent diplomatic relations. In 1971, the United States and the PRC exchanged table tennis teams; this “Ping Pong diplomacy” marked the beginning of relations between the two powers and culminated with President Richard Nixon’s famous visit in 1972. The plate featuring an American Eagle and Chinese Panda, was made as a diplomatic gift and celebrates this new period of exchange between America and the PRC. These diplomatic overtures, orchestrated by Premier Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger, marked a thaw in the previously tense relations between China and the West.
Following Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping loosened economic regulations with the Open Door Policy in 1978 that allowed foreign business into the nation for the first time in decades.