on December 22, 2003
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.
on October 24, 2003
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.
on March 13, 2004
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.
on March 21, 2004
For those of us fascinated and puzzled over the cultural revolution in China, here are photos to bring to life what we've been reading.There are many faces to study. This document seems curiously objective even though the author has his own story to tell of being treated unfairly. I would not describe the photos as shocking to those who have studied these events in China's history. This is a great companion to any other narrative one might be studying on the subject. Also, the author is a remarkable person. This is another work on the cultural revolution where I come away feeling gratitude toward the author. Li Zhensheng has a more benign story in comparison with some other personal accounts that were part of my introduction to this subject. I enjoy this additional perspective. There is much to see here.
on October 15, 2003
I confess that this review is only based on a browsing of this startling book in a bookstore. It presents what it claims is the only known photographic documentation of the entire period of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that the author collected during his days as a photographer for a Communist Party controlled newspaper
The photographs capture the revolution's sudden grip and the mass hysteria that went along with it. There is some pretty stark imagery of public humiliations, of forced "self-criticisms," of rampaging Red Guards, of executions.
There must nearly be around 300 prints or so. A stunning collection that is perhaps a required addition to the library of any Chinese, and a proud addition to everyone else's.