Li Zhensheng (photojournalist) bigraphy, stories - Journalists

Li Zhensheng (photojournalist) : biography

September 22, 1940 -

Li Zhensheng ( born September 22, 1940) is a Chinese photojournalist who captured some of the most telling images from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, better known as the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

His employment at the Heilongjiang Daily, which followed the party line, and his decision to wear a red arm band indicating an alliance with Chairman Mao Zedong, allowed him access to scenes otherwise only described in written and verbal accounts.

His recent publication of the book, "Red-Color News Soldier" exhibits both the revolutionary ideals and, more notably, many of the atrocities that occurred during the Cultural Revolution. The Heilongjiang Daily newspaper had a strict policy in accordance with a government dictate that only "positive" images could be published, which consisted mostly of smiling revolutionaries offering praise for Chairman Mao. The "negative" images, which depicted the atrocities of the time, were hidden beneath a floorboard in his house before he brought them to light at a photo exhibit in 1988.

Red-Color News Soldier

"Red-Color News Soldier" is a literal translation of the Chinese characters written on the armband Li Zhensheng wore during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Although, he says he never gave his alliance to Chairman Mao, wearing the arm band gave him unprecedented access to historic events, which have since shaped Chinese culture. Red-color News Soldier: A Chinese photographer's Odyssey through the Cultural Revolution (London, New York: Phaedon, 2003) ISBN 0714843083) The book covers the period from just before the Cultural Revolution in 1965 to just after in 1976. It is separated into five chronological sections: 1964-1966 titled "It is right to rebel"; 1966 titled "Bombard the Headquarters"; 1966-1968 titled "The Red Sun in our hearts"; 1968-1972 titled "Revolution is not a dinner party"; and 1972-1974 titled "Die Fighting."

The veteran China analyst John Gittings was among the reviewers who welcomed Li's book. He noted that Li was a Red Guard as well as a photographer and did not deny that he also led "struggle sessions" against innocent victims; but his pictures reflect a deeper desire to record and understand. Li's book was "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..."

The book, which has not been published in China, took many years to publish. Zhensheng's "negative" pictures (those that depicted the atrocities of the cultural revolution) were first revealed publicly in March 1988 at a Chinese Press Association's photography competition in Beijing. The show, entitled "Let History Tell the Future" consisted of twenty images from his collection, which were deemed "counterrevolutionary. " In December of that year, Zhensheng met Robert Pledge, an American who was director of Contact Press Images, an international photo agency, who had come to Beijing. They agreed to work together on a book of Zhensheng's photos, but to wait until the political climate was right. Seven months later, in June 1989, the brutal events of Tiananmen Square made worldwide headlines, and Zhensheng became determined to produce a book to show the world the images from the Cultural Revolution. Work on the book began in 1999. Since Pledge did not speak Chinese, and Zhensheng did not speak English, the two had to coordinate work through the use of translators — many of whom became integral parts of their relationship. Zhensheng sent over 30,000 brown envelopes to Pledge's office in New York City, each containing photographic negatives.

A number of the images are self-portraits of Zhensheng. This was the result of always returning to the paper with one extra frame on the film roll; a photojournalism technique of always being prepared to cover a breaking news event at the last minute. Zhensheng would "burn off" the last image with a photo of himself shortly before developing the film. Often the poses were humorous and playful. One such image of Zhensheng exposing his bare chest was published in the book He said he was attempting to recreate the old expression of "baring one's chest in the face of adversity," or in his case, communism.

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