A Panoramic View of China’s Cultural Revolution

Sim Chi Yin:

Li Zhensheng’s photographs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution are perhaps the most complete and nuanced pictorial account of the decade of turmoil ignited by Mao Zedong.

Mr. Li was a photojournalist for the local paper in Harbin, capital of China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang. That is where he did his life’s work documenting the Cultural Revolution, taking the “positive” propaganda images of masses whipped up in revolutionary fervor for the newspaper, and also the “negative,” more nuanced, questioning pictures. He snipped those frames off his film and hid them under the parquet floorboards of his house until the revolution ended. He did not show these pictures in China until the late 1980s. Even today, given the sensitivities that linger over the Cultural Revolution in China, his work is more often seen overseas rather than at home.