Ahead on the Socialist Journey in Characteristic China, a paper released in 1987, detailed initial-stage socialist ideals, and proposed fundamental policies that uphold 'one central task, two basic points' to strengthen China's resolution in reforms and openness, and deepening the influence of fundamental guidelines. Rope (Lot 417), completed in the same year as the paper's release, is rooted in an obvious, conceptual photorealistic ideals championed by the Stars Art, of which Mao was a founding member. The artist constructed the composition's basic elements with a photorealistic approach to render the printed English alphabets on the cardboard box, freight-number labels, and the ropes that signify constraints. The artist teases viewer's visual experience with finessed skills.
China experienced rapid economic growth between 1979 and 1989. The country's GDP peaked from 1984 and 1985. The attendant cultural openness also inspired '85 New Wave Art Movement' to support more liberal artistic expressions. The English alphabets in Rope, 'DISH BARREL,' refer to the protective packaging of dining utensils during the long transport. The 'ropes' that bound the cardboard boxes have come undone, implying that those 'fragile articles' carefully packaged by this protective layer would be laid open. The piece suggests Mao's conceptual expression of his longing for progressive social liberty, democracy, openness and tolerance.
Art critics have praised Mao as an 'artist with an explorative mind.' In the 1990's, Mao began creating 'murals with obvious Postmodernism and Eastern cultural characteristics.' Vandalized Mural, Dunhuang (Lot 418) is the signature piece of this era. The murals of Dunhuang, considered a magnificent cultural treasure, were brutally vandalised, and only less than a quarter of the art still remained. Mao stayed true to his symbolic realism approach, and created this piece with reason to explore the reverberations of pop culture. The defaced wall was attached with a corner of a richly pop-influenced 'pin-up' with printed numbers. In this clearly defined composition, manmade traces of boorishness and ignorance on the classic murals represent a world where gloom and innovation, unrest and hope coexist. One brushstroke after another, Mao consciously painted this piece with understanding and tenderness: the self-effacement and retrospection in the work inspires viewer to embrace a common-sense hope for life. (Chen Shaoping, Limitless, p. 122)