Below are two calligraphic inscriptions from Mao Zedong. Compare Mao’s hand with the lacklustre characters of his short-lived successor.
A while back, while browsing a second hand book market in Beijing, I bought a small book on Chinese postcodes （《邮政编码：试行方案》). Published by the Hubei Province Post and Telecommunications Management Bureau (湖北省邮电管理局) around 1978, the book explains to post office users details of the universal postcode system that was first introduced in 1978 in important urban areas (a nationwide system followed two years later).
The front cover picks up many of the political themes of the time – science and the pace of modernisation – but intriguingly also has a latter being delivered by a bird. Why? I am not sure.
The book is also interesting for the calligraphic inscriptions printed on the first two pages. The first is a reproduction of an inscription – “People’s Post and Telecommunications” – brushed by Chairman Mao in 1948 when the Communist Party were based at Xibaipo. The Chairman’s assertive calligraphy is instantly recognisable even without the accompanying caption, especially as the first two characters follow the same form as the masthead for the newspaper People’s Daily.
The second calligraphic inscription belongs to Hua Guofeng, the putative successor to Mao who was moved aside in 1978 by an alliance of elder Communist Party statesman. Hua writes of the importance of modernising the postal system and maintaining a spirit of self-reliance:
Comparing the brushwork of Mao and Hua, I am reminded of Richard Curt Kraus’ book Brushes With Power, published in 1991. In his discussion of the symbolic importance of calligraphy to Communist Party leaders, Kraus connects the inadequacy of Hua’s brushwork and his failure to last as leader of post-Mao China. The difference in authority between Mao and Hua is clear in their handwriting styles. Compare the cautious, ill-proportioned characters of Hua with Mao’s confident hand, or the way in which Hua’s charcters never achieve the elegant flow of Mao’s. Hua spent a long time practicing his characters so that he could fulfill the traditional inscription function of Chinese leaders, yet whereas Mao’s hand appears natural, Hua’s forced characters evoke his inexperience.