How Beijing faced the outbreak

To view the slideshow of photos, click the title link below.–Kirk

Source: China File (2/4/21)
Running on Empty: How Beijing Faced the Outbreak
By Summer Sun, photographed by Dong Lin
Dong Lin photographed this project with support from the Abigail Cohen Fellowship in Documentary Photography. The fellowship is a joint initiative of Asia Society’s ChinaFile and Magnum Foundation.

A People’s Armed Police officer stands guard outside the entrance to the Forbidden City, in Tiananmen Square, January 24, 2020.

A People’s Armed Police officer stands guard outside the entrance to the Forbidden City, in Tiananmen Square, January 24, 2020.

Afew days before the Lunar New Year last year, I called my mother for some urgent advice. Since I live in Europe and was not traveling home for the celebration, I decided to host a dinner party at my apartment. My invitation list soon grew out of hand, ending up with 15 guests. There were vegetarians, vegans, and non-pork eaters, a difficult endeavor for any Chinese chef, let alone a novice. My mother helped me decide on some easy-to-make and filling recipes. Before hanging up, we briefly discussed the mysterious, pneumonia-like disease sickening people in central China, far away from where my parents live. Around that time, Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese pulmonologist well-respected for his work during the SARS outbreak in 2003, publicly confirmed that the virus that would come to be known as COVID-19 spread from human to human. Still, given how little information the government had yielded on the extent of transmission, the outbreak remained obscure, if alarming. “Are you guys wearing masks?” I asked my mother. “I’ve started to, but your dad hasn’t. We still have some masks that he bought on Taobao years ago,” she said. “Who knows if they’re still good—you know your dad always buys whatever’s the cheapest.” Continue reading

Remembering and Forgetting the Traumatic Past

My essay, “Remembering and Forgetting the Traumatic Past,” which reviews Lingchei Letty Chen’s The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years and Margaret Hillenbrand’s Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China, has been published by the MCLC Resource Center. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/kdenton2/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for his editorial interventions.

Kirk Denton, editor

Remembering and Forgetting the Traumatic Past:
A Review Essay

The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years, by Lingchei Letty Chen
Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China, by Margaret Hillenbrand


Reviewed by Kirk A. Denton
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2021)


Margaret Hillenbrand, Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020. 292 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4780-0800-2 (paper); ISBN: 978-1-4780-0619-0 (cloth)

Lingchei Letty Chen, The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2020. 304pp. ISBN 9781604979923 (cloth)

In The Fat Years (盛世), a novel by Koonchung Chan 陳冠中, a character named He Dongsheng tries to explain to his captors—it’s too complex to explain here—why the Chinese people have forgotten an entire month: “What I want to tell you is that, definitely, the Central Propaganda organs did do their work, but they were only pushing along a boat that was already on the move. If the Chinese people had not already wanted to forget, we could not have forced them to do so. The Chinese people voluntarily gave themselves a large dose of amnesia medicine.”[1]

Much has been made of efforts by the state in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—famously referred to by Louisa Lim as the “People’s Republic of Amnesia”[2]—to repress memories that do not fit the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) politically-driven historical narrative, which emphasizes its central and singular role in driving the revolutionary past and modernizing the  present. It propagates this narrative through museums, party historiography, state-sponsored “main melody” films, textbooks, mainstream news media, etc. And it suppresses other forms of history that seek to recover memories of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen protest movement, and the plight of migrant workers in more recent times. Continue reading

Photo Poetics review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announced publication of Jiangtao Gu’s review of Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture, by Shengqing Wu. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/jiangtao-gu/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Photo Poetics:
Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture

By Shengqing Wu


Reviewed by Jiangtao Gu

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2021)


Shengqing Wu, Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. 384 pp. ISBN: 9780231192217 (paper); ISBN: 9780231192200 (cloth); ISBN: 9780231549714 (e-book)

Reading Shengqing Wu’s new book Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture, is like looking into a kaleidoscope of texts and images drawn from the late Qing and early Republican periods. The reading experience can be disorientating at times, but ultimately pleasurable and enriching, especially considering our otherwise barren knowledge of photo practices in China during this period.

Distinct from dominant discourses on the topic, which often privilege photography’s relationship with progressive and revolutionary cultures, Wu’s book is uniquely focused on the Chinese literati tradition and its engagement with the then-nascent medium. Counter to many May Fourth intellectuals’ disparagement of the tradition’s obsolescence and decay, Wu insists that the literati practice of lyricism was by no means “an ossified or dead entity” (27). Front-loaded with this argument, the book then asks us to consider the literati’s absorption of photography as evidence of the tradition’s longevity and vitality despite rapidly changing technological and social conditions. Continue reading

Photo Poetics

New Publication: Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture
By Shengqing Wu
Columbia University Press, Dec. 2020

Chinese poetry has a long history of interaction with the visual arts. Classical aesthetic thought held that painting, calligraphy, and poetry were cross-fertilizing and mutually enriching. What happened when the Chinese poetic tradition encountered photography, a transformative technology and presumably realistic medium that reshaped seeing and representing the world?

Shengqing Wu explores how the new medium of photography was transformed by Chinese aesthetic culture. She details the complex negotiations between poetry and photography in the late Qing and early Republican eras, examining the ways traditional textual forms collaborated with the new visual culture. Drawing on extensive archival research into illustrated magazines, poetry collections, and vintage photographs, Photo Poetics analyzes a wide range of practices and genres, including self-representation in portrait photography; gifts of inscribed photographs; mass-media circulation of images of beautiful women; and photography of ghosts, immortals, and imagined landscapes. Wu argues that the Chinese lyrical tradition provided rich resources for artistic creativity, self-expression, and embodied experience in the face of an increasingly technological and image-oriented society. An interdisciplinary study spanning literary studies, visual culture, and media history, Photo Poetics is an original account of media culture in early twentieth-century China and the formation of Chinese literary and visual modernities.

Lhasa in the Cultural Revolution

Source: China Channel, LARB (11/13/20)
Lhasa in the Cultural Revolution: A Photo Essay
By  and 

Header: Crowd accusing Samding Dorje Phagmo in the courtyard of her house in Lhasa, 1966 (Tsering Dorje, courtesy of Tsering Woeser)

Tsering Woeser presents her father’s photographs of Tibetan struggle sessions

In her new book Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetan essayist and poet Tsering Woeser dissects the impact of China’s Cultural Revolution on Lhasa, her birthplace, five decades ago. This photo essay features 18 of the more than 300 photos in the book, accompanied by Woeser’s comments (translated by Susan Chen); these are based on her interviews with Tibetans and Chinese in Lhasa who lived through the events shown in the photos. All of the photos were taken by Woeser’s father, Tsering Dorje (1937-91), who was a PLA officer and photographer serving in Lhasa in the early 1960s. His photos, which came to light only after his death, are the only known visual records of the struggle sessions, humiliation parades, and mass rallies staged during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. For our previously published interview with Tsering Woeser about her book and her father’s photographs, please read here. – Robbie Barnett

[see also Red Guards in Tibet] Continue reading

John Thompson photo exhibit

From July 18th to mid-October 2020, ShungYe Museum of Formosan Aborigines (順益台灣原住民博物館) in Taipei will exhibit fifty photos of Taiwan in April 1871 (and related 30 original woodcuts) by John Thomson, travelling with fellow Scotsman Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell — who established the first Presbyterian chapels in Taiwan and its first western style medical dispensary.

Practically no silver-based albumen prints of this series have survived. The fifty pigment-based digital prints exhibited are by Michael Gray, from his (film contact) high-resolution scans  of Thomson’s original glass-negatives preserved at Wellcome Library.

This exhibition is an updated version of a first one by Françoise Zylberberg and René Viénet in 2006  during Taipei International Book Exhibition, then in 2008 at National Taiwan University Library, with lectures by Richard Ovenden, John Falconer, William Schupbach, Barbara & Michael Gray —  together with the only known framed set of the original 96 collotypes plates (218 views) from Thomson’s “Illustrations of China and its people…Continue reading

Li Zhensheng dies at 79

Source: NYT (6/25/20)
Li Zhensheng, Photographer of China’s Cultural Revolution, Dies at 79
With his camera and red arm band, Mr. Li captured the dark side of Mao’s revolution at great personal risk.
By Amy Qin

Li Zhensheng in a risky self portrait taken during China’s Cultural Revolution on July 17, 1967, when people were expected to put party before self. His photographs offer a rare visual testament to that tumultuous period in Chinese history.  Credit…Li Zhensheng/Contact Press Images

Li Zhensheng, a photographer who at great personal risk documented the dark side of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, producing powerful black-and-white images that remain a rare visual testament to the brutality of that tumultuous period, many of them not developed or seen for years, has died. He was 79.

His death was confirmed on Tuesday by Robert Pledge, a founder of Contact Press Images and editor of Mr. Li’s photo book “Red-Color News Soldier,” who said that Mr. Li had been hospitalized on Long Island. He lived in Queens. Further details, including the date of his death, were not released.

Mr. Li was a young photographer at a local newspaper in northeastern China when Mao started the Revolution in May 1966. Wearing a red arm band that said, “Red-Color News Soldier,” Mr. Li was given extraordinary access to official events. Continue reading

TAP spring 2020

The spring 2020 issue of the Trans Asia Photography Review is now available! This special expanded issue marks the tenth anniversary of the TAP Review. It features 20 commentaries, book reviews, curatorial projects and profiles of contemporary photographic platforms in Asia. It also includes information about the wonderful trio of new editors – Thy Phu, Yi Gu and Deepali Dewan – who will be shepherding the journal into its next decade. You can read and respond to their Call for Proposals in this new issue, which can be found at tapreview.org. You may need to refresh your browser to see the updated contents:

Ten Years of the Trans Asia Photography Review / Notes from the Field Continue reading

Roundup of China’s best photojournalism from Wuhan

Source: China File (5/15/20)
‘A Letter to My Friend under Quarantine in Wuhan’: A Roundup of China’s Best Photojournalism
By Ye Ming, Yan Cong, Beimeng Fu

Wu Wei, The Paper

In this edition of Depth of Field, we highlight Chinese visual storytellers’ coverage of COVID-19 inside China. Some of these storytellers were on the ground documenting the experience of residents and medical workers in Wuhan, the city where the virus first emerged. Other storytellers were not able to travel to the outbreak’s epicenter because of Wuhan’s lockdown, which lasted from January 23 to April 8. But they found creative ways to cover the news from afar: photographing life under quarantine in other cities, stitching together social media footage, using publicly available information to explain the supply chain of medical masks. Their stories, told from diverse perspectives, depict pain, strength, and sacrifice amid the outbreak, and they leave us with lingering questions about what China—and the world—will look like, when they emerge from the crisis. Continue reading

TAP Fall 2019

The fall 2019 issue of the Trans Asia Photography Review is now available online at tapreview.org. (You may need to refresh your browser to view the new contents.) This issue, titled “Writing Photo Histories,” features the following articles and book reviews:

Writing Photo Histories

Picturing Meishu: Photomechanical Reproductions of Works of Art in Chinese Periodicals before WWII
Yanfei Zhu

Article

The Shanghai Amateur Photographic Society: An Early Photographic Organization Established by Westerners in China
Che Liang Continue reading

Qian Haifeng captures China’s slow trains

Source: SCMP (11/29/19)
Blue-collar photographer’s slice-of-life photos aboard China’s slow trains capture a side of country forgotten amid the fanfare over high-speed progress
China’s high-speed trains are a gleaming testament to its rise, but in the shadows is another world, one documented by a hotel worker with a second-hand Nikon. Qian Haifeng set out to see country on the cheap, and began photographing his fellow passengers. His images have won him national and international recognition
By Thomas Bird

Photographer Qian Haifeng. Photo: Thomas Bird

Photographer Qian Haifeng. Photo: Thomas Bird

Edging the banks of mighty Lake Tai and bisected by the fabled Grand Canal, Wuxi in eastern China has been a favoured place of trade since antiquity. Wedged between economic heavyweights Suzhou and Changzhou in Jiangsu province, the manu­facturing hub has awoken from its post-socialist slumber and is now known more for software and solar panels than silk and rice.

The Wuxi Grand Hotel looms large over the city’s Binhu district, where, in a 20th-floor Japanese restaurant, appears the hotel’s long-serving electrician, Qian Haifeng. The 52-year-old is sporting brown worker over­­alls and big black boots. He is a little hard of hearing but a boyish energy projects the character of someone much younger.

“Sorry to bring you all the way up here,” Qian says in Mandarin lilted with the local Jiangnan dialect. “I usually eat in cheap noodle shops on the street but I’m not allowed to leave the hotel while on duty. At least up here you get a good view of Wuxi.” Continue reading

Poetry meets politics in photos

Source: NYT (5/15/19)
Poetry Meets Politics in Photos of China
Between violent flash points in history, Liu Heung Shing saw tenderness and subversive humor in societies saturated with propaganda.
Photographs by Liu Heung Shing
Text by Tiffany May

Musicians giving an impromptu performance in support of demonstrators during the Tiananmen Square protests. Beijing, 1989.Credit Liu Heung Shing

Liu Heung Shing looked outside the car window: an imposing portrait of Mao Zedong had disappeared from the east side of Tiananmen Square. It was 1981.

Mao loomed large that year as people gathered to watch the depositions of his political cronies, known as the Gang of Four, on state television.Earlier that autumn, before Mao’s portrait was removed from a history museum in Tiananmen Square, Mr. Liu photographed a skater gliding past a statue of Mao. The frozen faces of Communist leaders got a breath of fresh air in Mr. Liu’s photography: A Beijing resident in 2008 lined the facade of her house with the portraits of lionized figures, in plucky defiance of demolitions planned before the Summer Olympics. Continue reading

TAP Review (spring 2019)

The spring 2019 issue of the Trans Asia Photography Review is now available online at tapreview.org. (You may need to refresh your browser to view the new contents.) This issue, titled “Circulation,” features the following articles, book reviews, and interviews:

CIRCULATION

Clare Harris, “Creating a Space for Performing Tibetan Identities: A Curatorial Commentary”

Kevin Michael Smith, “Images Under Construction: Photomontage in Interwar Europe and Japan”

Yiwen Liu, “Witnessing Death: The Circulation of Lu Xun’s Postmortem Image”

Russet Lederman, “Photobooks by Women from Asia: A Conversation with Amanda Ling-Ning Lo, Miwa Susuda, and Iona Ferguson”

Chen Shuxia, Zhou Dengyan, and Shi Zhimin, “Photographic Praxis in China, 1930s-1980: A Conversation with Chen Shuxia, Shi Zhimin, and Zhou Dengyan about Shi Shaohua and the Friday Salon”

Erin Hyde Nolan, “The Gift of the Abdulhamid II Albums: The Consequences of Photographic Circulation” Continue reading

TAP Review fall 2019–cfp

CALL for Proposals: TAP Review Fall 2019

The fall 2019 issue of the Trans Asia Photography Review is open to all topics relating to historical or contemporary photography in all regions of Asia (East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Asia). We are interested in a wide range of approaches, and in both art and vernacular photography from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Proposal deadline is April 8, 2019. If your proposal is accepted after preliminary review, then completed projects are due on June 3, 2019. Full peer reviews will take place at that time. Continue reading

Youths in China’s snowbound rustbelt

Source: NYT (2/26/19)
Young People Left Behind in China’s Snowbound Rust Belt
Ronghui Chen’s photographs of young people in Northeastern China capture a loneliness he recognized in his own trek from village to city.
Photographs by Ronghui Chen
Text by Tiffany May

A group of students about to take an art exam standing in front of promotional posters for Fushun, China. February 2018. Credit Ronghui Chen

As a sub-zero blizzard raged outside, Ronghui Chen pushed open a glass window to let in a gust of cold air.

He was in Yichun, a faded boomtown in northeastern China, where in December, 2016 he began photographing young people whose isolation he recognized in his own life. “This kind of heating puts people into the most lethargic state, depriving them of the ability to reflect,” he later said in a phone interview. At the same time, he also finds it frightening to become emotionally hardened like ice underfoot in the northeastern regions that made up China’s Rust Belt. “I feel that many people, like the land itself, are making themselves freeze.” Continue reading