This essay examines Maoist China and its deep engagement with local/global capitalism during the Cold War period. It analyzes how the socialist realist utopian images of self-reliant Dazhai, a model village in Shanxi, contributed to the domestic and international image of Maoist China as a socialist country located outside the orbit of global capitalism by focusing on the fundamental predicaments that China, as a developing country, faced in realizing socialism within its territory. These quandaries included a shortage of foreign currencies, a commodity economy, the party-state’s economic policies that prioritized heavy industry, and dependency on trade relationships with capitalist countries. The author’s analysis provides an economic history of political art by juxtaposing socialist realist visual culture during the Learn from Dazhai in Agriculture campaign with the economic conditions of Maoist China enmeshed in the complex chains of commodity production/exchange, international divisions of labor, and worldwide processes of capital accumulation.

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