Friday, July 29, 2016

Seeing China's Past

(from Historical Photographs of China)

A fascinating story from the BBC . . .

Until recently, few photographs of pre-1970s China were available for public viewing anywhere and were even more difficult to find in China.  Many photo archives and personal collections were lost in the war, revolution and repression that engulfed China from the 1910s into the 1960s, with the crowning blow of the Cultural Revolution, launched in 1966 by Mao Tse Tung, with his youthful Red Guards purging archives, books and libraries in an effort to erase China's pre-communist past and open the way to perfecting a true communist society.  Their fanaticism and violence led Chinese descended from pre-revolutionary bourgeois families to fear for the safety of themselves and their families prompting them to destroy "Holiday snapshots, studio portraits of weddings and babies" as they were "dangerously incriminating. So people destroyed their own family collections, rubbing out over 150 years of photographic history in the process."  For more on the Cultural Revolution, read "We Thought Mao Was Doing A Wonderful Thing".

The BBC story recounts the efforts of Professor Robert Bickers, a specialist in Sino-British relations at the University of Bristol in the UK, to reassemble a photo archive of China from the mid-19th through mid-20 centuries.  Professor Bickers' effort began twelve years ago with a visit from a student from Peking University seeking old photographs of the school since the university had none.  It is exciting to see how many old photographs have been uncovered since that time.

You can hear more about how the project started, how it has grown with the discovery of archives held in private hands outside of China by watching below and view the archive here.   The project has had a very positive reception in China.

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