rural palettes


Out gathering a pillion’s eye perspective on one of my favorite towns in China, and was struck by the colors. Besides the walls of mud and stones and verdant shoots of new growth, a few context-specific colors stood out, in particular these shades of blue and pink captured above in the above frame. As grass and mudbricks have a fairly well known history behind them, I’ll skip those details. The other colors, though, come wrapped up with stories of a changing China.

“Remittance-from-offspring-fueled-prosperity Pink”: When a parade of backhoes and bucket loaders trundled on to the narrow road in front of us, we momentarily pulled off the narrow road to avoid being flattened as they plodded by. As my driver lit up a cigarette, I asked whether he knew anything about the vibrantly-colored new building. Between sharp inhales of smoke and glances towards the cotton-candy-hued structure, he told of the family’s recent change in fortunes, or, more specifically, the fortune of their son, who, after recently being promoted to a manager in a Shenzhen factory, was now sending back a healthy amount of money to his family each month. While the family used to raise pigs in order to survive, their prosperity (pending continued health of the global economy, natch) was now essentially guaranteed, and they’ve put some of the funds to construct a new house. While he didn’t state this explicitly, it appears the family is not shy about displaying their prosperity.


Telecom Advertising Blue“: As China Telecom strove to capitalize upon its reach as the largest fixed-line phone company in China by parlaying its landlines into cellular lines, its rural marketing strategy of painting simple “character poster”-style advertisements, evocative of an earlier era’s newspaper headlines and propaganda in their typographic simplicity and starkness. Easy to produce in towns without large-format vinyl printers (every town had/has sign painters, after all), the only thing to distinguish this from the banners and “official messages” disseminated by the state was the background color. Their format, which proved successful enough to later also be adopted by China Mobile (right down to the color), a separate company spun off of China Telecom and now the world’s largest mobile phone operator at over 760 million subscribers. For the owners of rural enterprises who had never previously considered the prospect of large-format advertising before the arrival of these national players on to the village’s scene, a fair question was “why mess with a successful formula?” Hence, the default form for large-scale rural advertising has remained deep blue background, bold white characters. This particular advertisement is for a company calling itself “Pair of Tigers Family Fortune Famous Brand”, a “China Famous Trademark”, and the below for “East is Red” brand industrial machinery.


Changing times naturally lead to changing means of production and housing tastes, though. Increasingly, advertisements (particularly by the companies based out of large nearby cities that construct apartment buildings or, “multi-storey low-density garden houses miss hard to find”)  are being printed on large-format vinyl and plastered throughout even the smallest towns – here being no exception.

construction poster patterns - dissonance and luxury norms
Head out of town, though, and my personally preferred palette of colors prevails once more. As the new style of high-rises and pavement peters away into mudbrick houses and dirt paths, the world blends into a wheat-stone-thundercloud mélange of earth tones and sprouting farm fields (although one should expect the occasional jarring splash of “Construction Equipment Yellow”).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s