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Red-Color News Soldier [Paperback]

Li Zhensheng
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 2003
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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'This collection of photos, taken by Li in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang, where he worked for the official Communist party newspaper, is unique for a simple reason. Although the post-Mao Chinese government has labelled the cultural revolution "10 years of chaos", it still tries to suppress any real inquiry into the countless human tragedies it caused ... This remarkable book, which still cannot be published on the mainland, is a salutary reminder that, in the Chinese phrase, accounts have yet to be settled with the past.' (Guardian) 'An illuminating and unique photographic collection.' (Times Higher Education Supplement) 'Fascinating ... An excellent book.' (Amateur Photographer) 'Every shot is a harrowing legacy of the brutality, cruelty, and naivety of those times, when Mao and his followers sought to destroy all traces of the past.' (The Glasgow Herald) '...An extraordinary picture of one of the most bizarre, complex and catastrophic episodes in China's history." (New Statesman) 'Li's photographs are remarkable for their dramatic impact, but are also composed with utmost precision.' (Financial Times) 'The interweaving of autobiography, images with a strong narrative structure and an illuminating tranche of contextual writing is what makes this book so revealing and so engaging.' (Morning Star) 'What distinguishes Mr. Li's collection of 30,000 negatives is that it shows in shocking detail what was happening at a grass-roots level in a remote Chinese province far from western eyes. His work also reflects the instincts of a journalist and the eye of an artist.' (The New York Times) 'The collection offers an astonishing and invaluable record of a decade of political zealotry that veered out of control and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.' (Publishers Weekly) 'Mr. Li's photos graphically capture the emotional pain of the humiliation inflicted by young punks on powerful men, governors and Communist Party first secretaries... Each photo is captioned with a description, and the collection is accompanied with Mr. Li's readable text describing the impact of the Cultural Revolution on his life.' (The Washington Times) 'The first complete photo history to present China's dark Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in all its inhumanity.' (Entertainment Weekly) 'This is a startling and unique perspective.' (The Christian Science Monitor) 'These images are rare and powerful reminders of events that might otherwise have been forgotten ... By capturing that decade of shame and destruction, and preserving it forever on paper, Li has challenged the world never to forget.' (Reader's Digest) 'A minutely documented (the 285 prints were gleaned from the tens of thousands of negatives Li hid under his floorboards), scrupulously honest (the book orders all the prints strictly chronologically, and all are uncropped) record of the revolution.' (The Atlantic Monthly) 'With Red-Color News Soldier...Li, now 63, has brought forth an unprecedented vision of this dark chapter in Chinese history.' (US News & World Report) 'Taken at enormous personal risk, the photographs collected here depict extraordinary events...It's their unadorned straightforwardness that makes Red Color News Soldier such a profoundly disturbing document.' (Photo District News) '[A] groundbreaking book.' (Newsweek International) 'A straightforward and open account of that era giving valuable insight into a tormented period of history.' (The Asian Review of Books on the Web) 'One of the great events of the 20th Century at last is found to have received coherent visual expression. Moreover, it's the only complete record of the Cultural Revolution known to exist. It is impossible to overrate the historical value of this densely packed volume.' (The Chicago Tribune) 'Li Zhensheng's disturbing photographs of the rise and fall of Mao's Cultural Revolution are a truly stunning achievement...A brilliant book!' (Worldview) '...[O]ne of the most important photo books in recent memory.' (American Photo) 'Red-Color News Soldier documents the spectacular nitty-gritty of everyday totalitarian fanaticism, with pictures culled from the thousands taken by photojournalist Li Zhensheng in the mid 1960s...The trove of negatives hidden for two decades below the floorboards of his house constitute the single most extensive record of the Cultural Revolution.' (The Village Voice) 'One of the most unforgettable books of the past year...It is utterly engrossing, even when you can barely look at it.' (Slate)

About the Author

Li Zhensheng was born in Dalian, China, in 1940. After studying film, he joined The Heilongjiang Daily as a photojournalist in 1963 and documented the Chinese Cultural Revolution in its entirety. In 1987, a collection of 20 of his photos were released, bearing the title Let History Tell the Future, and won the Grand Prize at China's National Press Association Photo Competition. Since 1996 he has been a visiting scholar, lecturing on the Cultural Revolution at at the universities of Harvard and Princeton. His work has appeared in major magazines worldwide including Time, The New York Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, and Le Nouvel Observateur. Jonathan Spence is Sterling Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of a distinguished body of work on the history of modern China, including the seminal book, The Search for Modern China (1990). His book The Gate of Heavenly Peace The Chinese and Their Revolution 1895-1980 (1981) was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History. Spence was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1988 and is established as one of the foremost experts on the history and culture of modern China.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A shocking look at a remarkable period Dec 22 2003
Format:Paperback
Although the photographs are the main focus of this book, the accompanying text is also illuminating as an individual's account of his experiences of the Cultural Revolution. The text has, of course, been written with the benefit of hindsight - and one gets a sense of retrospective self-justification coming in. The passion that the period inspired amongst the younger generation is also evident, however.
The photographs are, of course, contemporary accounts of the living through that period, and consequently have the power to shock significantly. The "struggle session" photographs of senior party leaders undergoing "self-criticism" are particularly horrific. The concluding photographs of a "victor" of the Cultural Revolution on her way to her execution after the restoration of a more normal society also have a big impact - though curiously there is a sense of the pathetic about the woman that Li captures.
The photography merits a 5 star rating, the text probably a three. The images are a valuable insight into the strength of emotion in that remarkable period.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Cultural Revolution"? What sort of revolution? Oct. 24 2003
By B. Fang
Format:Paperback
I remember reading a review of this in the Far Eastern Economic Review (Oct 16, 2003 issue) and I said to myself after reading that review that I had to somehow find a copy of this book. One week later, I found it. If this truly is part of the only (known) complete collection of photographs of China within 1966-1976, then Li Zhensheng must be commended for his bravery in capturing some of the most poignant & stark imagery that I have ever seen in my life.
Starting from the beginnings of the "revolution" in 1964-1966, we are taken through from the initial scenes of relative calmness to the all-out assault on those "bourgeois" elements within Heilongjiang province by the time of 1972-1976. I took a look at the images and could not believe how humanity could do these things to its own. Thank goodness that Li Zhensheng (with Robert Pledge and Jacques Menasche) make mention that only in 1981 did China suddenly realise that the Cultural Revolution did not really achieve anything but set China backwards.
There are between 300-400 prints in this book that were culled from over 30,000 negatives taken by Li to New York. If the images in this pictorial story are anything to go by, God only knows what those other 29,600-29,700+ negatives contain. Definitely one to buy for your collection. Recommended without any hesitation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing March 13 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
For those readers whose knowledge of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution is limited to film, here is a document that shows that some of the films that portray these scenes were not exaggerated. These photographs do much more work than most documentary photographs. There is something uncannily immediate about them, as though the events depicted happened only yesterday; sometimes it is as though they were still happening. The text that accompanies the photographs follows the story of the photographer and his work through these years, and is interesting and well written. I came away from this book with the feeling of horror at fascism that I have never felt before. This book communicates something original and timeless about the human condition that I believe is priceless and rare. If you can't afford this book, you should seek it out at a bookstore and read it.
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