Leisure, Hobbies, and the State in Socialist China
1: Philately Under Socialism: Stamp Collecting in 1950s China
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Oregon, United States
Mirroring capitalist economic systems, stamp collecting in China and elsewhere originally was defined through a commodity culture that privileged concepts such as rarity and value. Although education and global knowledge were important, collectors could not avoid participating in speculation and investment as they bought, sold, and traded stamps to fill out their collections.
This model clearly was problematic in socialist societies. In the 1920s and 1930s, philately was actively debated in the Soviet journals Sovetskii Filatelist and Sovetskii Kollekstsionerf, where editors took on the responsibility of defining and actualizing socialist values in collecting. When the PRC was established, those in charge of national journals also tried to wrench the hobby out of the capitalist sphere. From its beginning in 1955 to the final issue of the Maoist period in 1965, the journal Jiyou (Philately) published many articles and discussions on the correct way to become a socialist stamp collector.
It turned out to be a difficult task. Although authors and editors found and defined the many hazards of collecting, letters from readers testified to the stubborn persistence of capitalist values in philately. Pyramid schemes, altering stamps to increase their desirability, the collecting of stamps from enemy countries: none of these collecting strategies were easily abandoned. In this talk, I argue that hobbies involving collecting could only with great difficulty—including the threat of shaming and censure—morph into practices defined by the collective goals of socialism.