In the U.S., we are familiar with Mather Work Incentive posters that used short and witty phrases to motivate workers and increase productivity; and Character-Culture-Citizenship Guides, issued for use in American classrooms to encourage reading and sportsmanship; and public service announcements like the Ad Council’s anti-polution “Crying Indian.” But how do governments promote hygiene?
Compared to these, a set of 19 previously undocumented Chinese posters illustrating Modes of Infection and Prevention, which are offered in the May 5th Modernist Posters auction, seem almost comical. In 1915, China undertook a nationwide health initiative to increase hygienic practices. That first campaign, and those that followed, utilized exhibitions, films and posters to disseminate messages about food preparation, child safety and how to prevent the spread of disease.
While these circa 1925 images of a man coughing on a baby or smoking while slicing watermelon seem humorous today, they provided very clear messages to a predominantly illiterate population about sound health practices.