The Search for Photos of China’s Past

Most of China’s photographic history became a casualty of domestic politics in the first three-quarters of the 20th century. The BBC reports on efforts to reclaim and consolidate what still exists:

Old photograph fever is currently sweeping China. A new and intense appetite for images of the country’s past has resulted in a publishing phenomenon – sales of books of historical photographs have rocketed.

Such photographs are exceptionally rare in China. The turbulent history of the 20th Century meant that many archives were destroyed by war, invasion and revolution. Mao Zedong’s government regarded the past as a “black” time, to be erased in favour of the New China. The Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s finished the job.

[…]But now China is opening its horizons, looking to the West and to the past, to reclaim its cosmopolitan history.

After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Chinese leaders concluded that young people did not fully appreciate what the Communist Party had done for China, so they began an ambitious new policy of historical education, the Patriotic Education Movement. The craze for old photographs is partly a by-product of this movement.

But such photographs are not to be found in China. They are in the attics and wardrobes of foreigners – many British – whose families once lived and worked in China and who took their photographs safely out of the country when they left.

Click through to read the entire article, and see a slideshow with commentary.

July 11, 2012 2:12 PM
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