China on Film

China Pictorial (English) - - NEWS - Text by Yi Mei

This year marks the 40th an­niver­sary of China’s re­form and open­ing up. De­spite China’s long, rich his­tory, the last 40 years have no doubt been one of the most splen­did chap­ters, which ev­ery Chi­nese per­son has wit­nessed as well as con­trib­uted to. Across the four decades, Chi­nese pho­tog­ra­phers have also seized ev­ery chance to freeze time­less im­ages of the peo­ple and their lives.

The ex­hi­bi­tion “China: 40 Years through the Lens” opened at the Na­tional Mu­seum of China on Au­gust 30, 2018, pre­sent­ing the great changes that have taken place in econ­omy, cul­ture, so­ci­ety, ecol­ogy and peo­ple’s liveli­hoods in the coun­try. The 216 pho­tographs on dis­play were se­lected from more than 30,000 sub­mis­sions.

It is easy to pin­point the com­mon threads run­ning through the ex­hi­bi­tion. One tells the story of the devel­op­ment of the coun­try through de­pict­ing the lives of or­di­nary Chi­nese peo­ple. The other high­lights the role Chi­nese pho­tog­ra­phers have played over the past 40 years of the coun­try’s re­form and open­ing up.

Chen Xiaobo, vice pres­i­dent of the China Pho­tog­ra­phers As­so­ci­a­tion, served as the ex­ec­u­tive cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Choos­ing pic­tures

that most acutely fo­cused on the past 40 years from such a large vol­ume of sub­mis­sions pre­sented a great chal­lenge for her.

“I tended to choose the most mod­est and un­adorned works which cap­ture de­tails and tell a story,” says Chen. “And I passed on sim­ple and coarse im­ages with even strong vis­ual im­pact as well as ob­scure and un­pro­fes­sional works. I also ruled out pic­tures fea­tur­ing only good im­ages but hav­ing no con­nec­tion to the times.”

The pho­tographs freeze mo­ments in time from the lives of the Chi­nese peo­ple, pre­serv­ing his­tor­i­cal traces and pas­sion as well as po­etic fea­tures. At the same time, they build a time­line of China’s re­form and open­ing up.

Af­ter se­lect­ing pic­tures, writ­ing cap­tions was an­other cru­cial step. The cu­rat­ing team agreed that cap­tions were im­por­tant to the pho­tos and that a wealth of in­for­ma­tion could en­hance the “strength” of a photo. So they de­lib­er­ated on each cap­tion care­fully to en­sure it op­ti­mally nar­rated a story. The 200-plus pic­tures were orig­i­nally ac­com­pa­nied by cap­tions to­tal­ing some 50,000 Chi­nese char­ac­ters, and the fi­nal ver­sion kept 30,000. So each cap­tion av­er­ages about 200 words.

For ex­am­ple, pho­tog­ra­pher An Ge shot a pic­ture in 1981 of cit­i­zens play­ing bad­minton on a play­ground in Jieyang City, Guang­dong Prov­ince. Its cap­tion men­tioned that Fu Haifeng, born in 1983 in the city, later won gold medals in men’s dou­bles at the Rio and Lon­don Olympics and that bad­minton is so pop­u­lar in China that play­ers could num­ber as many as 200 mil­lion ac­cord­ing to in­com­plete statis­tics.

The cu­rat­ing team hopes the au­di­ence likens the ex­pe­ri­ence to read­ing a book or watch­ing a play rather than just hav­ing a look at a bunch of pho­tos.

1983: At the Nagqu Horse Rac­ing Fes­ti­val in Nagqu Pre­fec­ture of Tibet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, herders place recorders on the edge of the stage to record a song by folk artists in per­for­mance. Por­ta­ble recorders be­came pop­u­lar in the early 1980s. by Tashi Tseten

Oc­to­ber 1996: At a small sta­tion called Qiangzilu on the rail­way route from Bei­jing to Qin­huang­dao City, vil­lagers sell lo­cal spe­cial­ties to pas­sen­gers. The train stopped for only five min­utes and the sta­tion lacked a plat­form, so vil­lagers in­vented a new method to sell their goods. by Zhou Chaorong In the mid-1990s, China was shift­ing from a planned econ­omy to a mar­ket econ­omy. Com­merce pros­pered across the coun­try, as ev­i­denced by the ax­iom “900 mil­lion out of a bil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple are busi­ness­peo­ple.”

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