Images from the Chinese Cultural Revolution
November 1, 2005 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Red Color News Soldier: "The project to bring Li Zhensheng’s photographs of the [Chinese] Cultural Revolution to the wider world was first conceived fifteen years ago in Beijing. It was there, at the Chinese Press Association's photography competition in March 1988, that Li first publicly exhibited twenty images from his "negative" negatives – that is, those which had been deemed counterrevolutionary under the political dictates of Chairman Mao Zedong."
posted by hall of robots (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The photos are amazing. Good Post.
posted by chunking express at 10:16 AM on November 1, 2005

That's impressive--I was in China (Beijing & Shanghai) this past winter, and it's still a very different place. It's easy to imagine Mao up on the Tiananmen Gate, millions of rabid kids cheering him on....
posted by LooseFilter at 10:20 AM on November 1, 2005

Whenever I think about what happened in the last 100 years in China and Russia I remember that America has a good thing going.
posted by ewkpates at 10:21 AM on November 1, 2005

Gorgeous website, beautifully annotated, amazing content.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:21 AM on November 1, 2005

A new book paints Mao as a monster on par with Hitler and Stalin and challenges almost every part of the conventional biography.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:23 AM on November 1, 2005

This is awesome, I need to pass it one to someone right away.
posted by furtive at 10:39 AM on November 1, 2005

From Robert Pledge's introduction:
We will be forever grateful to Li for having risked so much to doggedly preserve his images at a time when most of his colleagues agreed to allow their politically "negative negatives" to be destroyed. Li Zhensheng was a young man in search of himself—as his numerous self-portraits clearly indicate—who wished to leave behind a trace of his own existence as well as his dreams of individuality, elegance, and a better world. But History is the issue here: the need to remember and revisit those strange and terrifying events that shaped China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Great post: thanks, hall of robots!

The Jesse Helms: I don't know what "conventional biography" you're thinking of but most of that stuff has been known for years. (What? Mao didn't found the Chinese Communist Party? Stop the presses!) It does sound like they dug up some new material, but it also sounds like they were pretty indiscriminate about their sources and sloppy about citing them, so I'd use it with caution. Also, good biographies aren't usually filled with frothing rage against their subjects, as this one seems to be. Yes, Mao was a monster; can we all agree on that and settle down to examine the facts?
posted by languagehat at 11:05 AM on November 1, 2005

See also.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:09 AM on November 1, 2005

I agree with languagehat about Jung Chang being sloppy about her sources- I find her books about China (including Wild Swans) to be of the sort that are wildly popular in the West because of their almost exclusively negative take on Chinese history- for more objective, balanced writing I would suggest either Jonathan Spence or Jaspar Becker. I think they both do a good job of introducing events and people in Chinese history without whitewashing OR focusing only on the titillating, China-is-so-oppressive aspects.
posted by Oobidaius at 11:46 AM on November 1, 2005

I am really bothered by the resurgence of Mao as a nationalist icon in China. It seems to me the new generation is being raised to revere him. Statues of Mao are popping up all over the place. Campuses love him again. There's no real talk of his role as the ruler of China, but only as some kind of nationalist demigod who single handedly brought China out of Japanese occupation, defeated the Nationalists, and ushered in the great new era of the PRC.

I spent an evening this weekend with a nice and thoughtful girl, a grad student working on thin film superconductors as microwave filters for wireless communication. Unfortunately when our conversation turned to domestic politics, she began to go off on Mao's brilliance as a leader, and the thieving, traitorous Nationalists holed up in "Taiwan Province". I could tell she wasn't a firm ideologue, but rather just repeating what had been drilled into her head by the pervasive propaganda here, but the effect was still chilling.

Hell, I went to a nice restaurant last month where they had a Mao shrine. I kid you not, a fucking shrine, with incense burning and a place to leave an offering of money. I burned a few sticks and left an appropriate offering, one Mao. Of course, since they haven't redesigned the note since 1980, there is no picture of Mao on the note, just happy peasants staring off into the glorious communist future. All the new notes have only Mao on them.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:08 PM on November 1, 2005

[expletive deleted], Admittedly, I don't discuss Mao with every person I meet here, but I have met very few people who display blind reverence towards the man. I'd describe the consensus attitude of those I know as something along the lines of, "great general, poor political leader". Most people here are taught and believe that with the founding of the PRC China was rescued from a long period (and possible future of colonialist domination and bullying . They also tend to believe that China is only now escaping the poverty of the Mao years.

As for Taiwan, it's frustrating that many westerners laugh at how brainwashed Chinese people are regarding the Taiwan issue while failing to examine their own received attitudes on the issue. (Please note I'm not pointing a finger at you here, as it's possible you know quite a bit about the history of Taiwan, have considered all sides of the issue, and arrived at the perfectly reasonable conclusion that the PRC is wrong on this matter.)

What I find disturbing here is the degree to which young Chinese people equate China with the present government. In their minds, there is no separation between China, its culture and history, and the PRC. When discussing the USA for example, I've met many people who find it very difficult to understand that Americans separate their concepts of country/culture and government, and that for many Americans criticism of the government is in fact a sign of patriotism.

Also, you'll generally Mao decore in Hunan restaurants throughout China; that was his birthplace. It's really strange to be served by people in red guard uniforms, but the food is so damn good... To me, it feels like an anachronism; I never see this kind of Mao-worship in day to day life.

Oh, and (on topic here) thanks for the link hall of robots, those are some fascinating, deeply frightening pictures. Just to nitpick, I have to say I'm annoyed by the site's "literal translation of the chinese characters". People do this all the time, and the effect is to make the language seem strange, foreign or even infantile. It's the equivalent of translating French word by word and calling it a "literal translation" No: it's an incorrect translation. I'm no translator, but a correct translation for 红色新闻兵 would be closer to "Revolutionary News Soldier" or "Revolutionary Army Journalist".
posted by Treeline at 12:35 AM on November 2, 2005

Treeline, I agree that the general consensus is as you describe. This is part of the reason why I was so shocked to hear what she had to say about him. As for Taiwan, I'm not so much talking about the "One China Policy" as the belief that Taiwan is wealthy because of theft from mainland China, ignoring the poverty and suffering in China caused by Mao's rule.

Oh, and yeah, I should have specified that it was a Hunan restaurant. And the food certainly is awesome. The red guard outfits are certainly odd, but the Mao pin I got was neat.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:29 AM on November 2, 2005

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