In 2005 the National Library of Medicine acquired more than fifteen hundred Chinese public health posters plus an assortment of other materials, mainly from the Communist era (1949 to the present). Among these riches is a charming set of eight block puzzles. The pictures on the sides of each block, when put together, make six scenes aimed at fostering revolutionary consciousness and teaching hygienic behavior through the cycle of a day.
Scene one: As a cat looks up at him and the sun rises through an open window, a boy brushes his teeth. He will next use the basin and towel behind him to wash his face. The dawn is to the new day as the boy is to the new political order: optimistic, bright, and full of promise.
Scene two: The boy joins his sister and older brother, walking on a country road. They stretch out their arms to exercise before school begins.
Scene three: In class the boy reads while other boys rub their eyes, which are strained from reading. A wall poster urges, “Protect your eyes; rest at regular intervals.” (The exhortatory poster campaign was a hallmark of the Communist regime.)
Scene six: Their blue jackets and red scarves hang on a rail, and it’s time to get ready for bed. The boy’s older brother bathes in a large red tub, and the ever diligent boy cleans the window as the sun sets. A green bucket and mop wait for cleaning up after bathing. Soon all the children will have a good night’s sleep.
The Number 10 Shanghai Toy Factory probably produced these blocks between 1960 and 1966. Since no posters of Mao Zedong are seen on the home, school, or village walls, the blocks likely were issued before the Cultural Revolution (1966–۷۶), when Mao’s portrait became ubiquitous. The “Four Pests” banner suggests the years following the Great Leap Forward (1958–۶۱): in May 1958 Mao ordered that “the whole people, including five-year-old children, must be mobilized to eliminate the four pests” (sparrows, rats, mosquitoes, flies). In March 1960 Mao replaced sparrows (targeted for eating too much grain) with lice.