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Red-Color News Soldier
Publisher: Phaidon PressFormat: Hardcover
Following World War II, China found itself struggling with a conversion to communism that had wreaked havoc on the nation's economy, causing a devastating famine and extreme economic depression. In 1966 China's leader, Mao Zedong, gave his support to radicals within the communist party who envisioned a revolutionary social upheaval that would destroy all traces of the reactionary past. This was the beginning of a ten-year period of violence and chaos known as the Cultural Revolution. Many top officials lost their positions and numerous provincial governments came under the control of the radicals. The radical movement was primarily led by students who formed organizations known as “Red Guards,” which used violent methods to punish people they saw as “anti-Maoists” or counter-revolutionaries. At the height of the Cultural Revolution (1966-70) China's universities were closed and much of its populace was sent to rural “re-education centres” where they were indoctrinated with Maoist policies. It is during this period that Li Zhensheng worked as a photojournalist for the “Heilongjiang Daily”, shooting film both for the paper and, as we know now, for himself.While Li worked for a newspaper supporting the Maoist movement and admits he did not think Mao's policies to be incorrect at the beginning of his tenure at the newspaper, his hiding of film was a highly subversive action. As a photographer, Li wanted to document the Cultural Revolution for himself and for others in the future. He put himself at risk by hiding film stills that the government would have destroyed, capturing events of which little or no other visual record exists. Looking at the photos in this book, one sees the difference between the photos published in the “Daily” and those Li hid for himself, allowing for a rare understanding of how the Chinese government controlled media during the Cultural Revolution. The Heilongjiang province where Li worked was crucial because of its proximity to the then Soviet Union. Its main city, Harbin, had been occupied by the Soviets following World War II and was later set up as a communication hub between the Soviet Union and China. It was the communist centre which bred the revolutionary movement, leading to China's unification under communist control in 1949.This Russian influence can be seen in the details of Li's photographs, right down to the city's typically Russian-style architecture. Many of Li's techniques as a photographer borrow from his training as a filmmaker, including his creation of “handheld panoramic” photos by shooting overlapping frames of large panoramas and pasting the stills together to create the illusion of one continuous shot. His inventive techniques and powerful images make Li one of the premier Chinese photographers alive today. This book, which takes its name from the literal translation of Li's accreditation as a photographer approved by the Communist Party headquarters in Beijing, is part of the key to understanding one of the most turbulent and still notorious eras of modern history. The book includes a preface, introduction, text by the photographer, chronology, maps, and extensive photo captions for over 400 photos (almost all of which have never been seen before).
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