"Seeking truth from facts"

[...] Liu Heung Shing got the idea for the book shortly after China won its bid to host the Olympics. “I began to wonder what people in 2008 would understand about the journey that Chinese people have undergone from 1949 till today. When people get off at the airport they’ll be surrounded by luxury – villas, fast trains, cars, stadiums – but will not necessarily appreciate or understand the road that has lead to today.”

The photographer says he wanted to present as balanced a portrait of the country as possible. In Western media, he notes, “China is either too backward or it’s flooding the West with all these goods and is a threat to its neighbours… at what point does conversation turn into demonisation?” At the other end of the spectrum, Chinese media tend to see “China through a viewing glass that is not always propagandistic, but the Chinese have a tendency to put the best face forward.”

The book takes a panoramic, decade-by-decade look at the nation’s development, from the founding of the People’s Republic, to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, to the Opening and Reform and Tiananmen, right up to its ongoing economic miracle. Even China’s most recent heartrending national tragedy, the Sichuan earthquake, makes an appearance. Liu has spent the last four years pouring over archives, travelling the country meeting photographers and gaining access to negatives. “Surprisingly when I started calling the photographers, I had a very warm welcome.” Many of them already knew Liu’s 1983 work, China After Mao, which was circulated ‘unofficially’ in China.

Between 25 and 30 per cent of the works in the new book have never been published, including one of Madame Jiang Qing, purported to be the last photograph taken of her before she was arrested that same evening. Another shows Chairman Mao with more than a dozen of his personal staff, an image Liu says “would have been impossible to publish during Mao’s lifetime.” Another photo depicts one of Mao’s ‘railway attendants’ in fashionable dress. Elsewhere, we see original images alongside official photographs, such as the Gang of Four at Mao’s funeral, placed beside the official photograph in which the four were airbrushed out. [...]


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