Andy Warhol constantly searched pop culture for inspiration, and his iconic portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong was no exception. In 1972, President Richard Nixon ended years of diplomatic isolation between the US and China when he visited China to meet with Mao, a controversial Communist revolutionary and founder of the People’s Republic of China. This historic event deeply affected Warhol, as he created this work of the Chinese leader in the years following Nixon’s highly-publicized visit.
Warhol’s source image for this work was a photograph of Mao that illustrated the cover of the widely circulated Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong book carried by Mao’s followers. Warhol’s portraits of Mao are considered to be among Warhol’s first explicitly political pieces. In commenting on the nature of state-controlled media by joining it together with the visual language of Western advertising, Warhol made a clear statement about propaganda and psychological influence.