Introduction
Methods
Art, Photography and Propaganda: Contextualizing Li’s Self-Portraiture
Li’s Self-Portraiture: An Autobiography in Photographs
Me, Mao and the Masses: intertwining identities, interplaying power relations
Conclusion
Footnotes
Bibliography

Introduction

Chinese photographer Li Zhensheng is best known for his documentary work on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76). He is one of the rare photographers who, despite political sanction, courageously captured the bleak moments of this sociopolitical movement marked by public humiliations, mob violence, and destructions of cultural and religious artifacts. At the same time, he also served as a propaganda photographer working for the Heilongjiang Daily, the official newspaper of China’s northeastern province, producing glorified images that contributed to extolling the period and deifying Chairman Mao Zedong. Photographs from these two areas of his work have been exhibited in over 30 cities internationally and his book under the same title, “Red-Color News Solider,” has been printed in seven languages: English, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Spanish, and more recently traditional Chinese. Less known is that he retains a rich collection of photographic self-portraits taken during the different phases of his life and career. The current study pertains to these photographs.

The self-portrait, as an artifact and a self-representation, constitutes an important field for scholarly investigation. In a self-portrait, the photographer and the photographed converge. The self becomes both the subject and the object, the spectator and the spectacle. It denotes a highly intimate expression in which personal ownership, self-identification and self-curation are all condensed within a photographic frame. At the same time, it also reveals the highly contested domain of self-idealization and self-commodification for social positioning, interactions and exchanges. The self-portrait, simple as it may appear, has therefore attracted scholars from both art history/criticism and media/cultural studies for in-depth intellectual inquiry.

In art history and art criticism, the analysis of the photographic self-portraiture is a well-established field. It has been addressed broadly as a cultural phenomenon, be it a form of artistic automatism and agency (1), a tool for feminist empowerment (2), a technology of embodiment (3), or a psychological awareness, presentation, and construction of the self (4). These concepts have been applied to and tested on the self-portraits of a wide range of individual photographers, including Edward Steichen (5), Cindy Sherman (6), Martin Chambi (7), Nadar (8), Hannah Maynard (9), and so forth.

In media and cultural studies, with the recent rise of the selfie culture, a growing body of literature on self-representation through photographic means has been developed and examined. examined from different perspectives, whether it be a form of online activism as part of a larger public relations program (10), a complex interplay of identity politics and self-curation for the public gaze (11), a way of self-empowerment for the marginalized (12), or an underlying statement of the narcissistic and self-objectification tendencies (13).

Building upon these two fields of scholarship, this study analyzes Li’s self-portraits made between 1958 and 1982 from these two different yet auxiliary perspectives. It situates Li’s self-reflective images within the context of the history of Chinese art and photography. It examines how they respond to Li’s personal encounters and societal shifts during a fervent and turbulent time in China’s recent past. It explores how power relations and politically sanctioned notions of identity are inscribed, negotiated and challenged in these images. It argues that Li used this artistic expression as a hammer to chip away the sacred wall of collectivism and articulate his individuality amidst a sea of revolutionary zeal. It suggests that these self-portraits constitute a critical juncture that foreshadowed a humanistic and subjective turn in the subsequent decades in the history of Chinese art and photography.

Methods

The study draws on research into primary and secondary sources, as well as in-depth interviews. In July and December 2018, I made two trips to Anren Town, Dayi County in China’s Sichuan Province to conduct archival research at the Li Zhensheng Photography Museum on the campus of the Jianchuan Museum Cluster. The materials I surveyed, sorted, and read through included Li’s personal notes, diaries, unpublished manuscripts, letters from his friends, and a public exhibition that showcases Li’s photographs, camera equipment, book collection and miscellaneous objects. In December 2018 and March 2019, two other trips were made to New York City, USA, where I conducted interviews with Li and Robert Pledge, Li’s friend and editor, in addition to examining some of Li’s vintage and contact prints, published works, exhibition brochures, and digitalized materials which were kept in Li’s home and at the office of Contact Press Images. In January and June 2019, I spent three weeks at the Asia Art Archive based in Hong Kong, reviewing books, journals and other published materials relevant to the art history, visual culture and political experiences under discussion in the paper. Conducting interviews and going over the primary materials allowed me to gather and verify factual information about Li and construct interpretations of his works, while reading the secondary literature helped me develop a historical and art-historical consciousness of the timeframe pertinent to the study.

Art, Photography and Propaganda: Contextualizing Li’s Self-Portraiture

Li Zhensheng was born in the northern port city of Dalian, Liaoning province in 1940, when China, politically divided, was fighting the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). He attended elementary school in Dalian at the age of ten, shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949. In July 1960, he became a student of cinematography at the Changchun Film Institute in Jilin province. As an economic consequence of the failed Great Leap Forward Campaign (1958-61), there were no career opportunities open for him in his field when he graduated in 1963. Instead, he was forced to land a job as a newspaper photographer at the Heilongjiang Daily in Harbin, the capital city of China’s northernmost province, neighboring the Soviet Union, where he worked until 1980 before relocating to Beijing to teach photojournalism at the International Political Science Institute (14).

Speaking about his generation, Li used the expression, “Born in the old society but grown up under the Red Flag,” (15) an idiomatic phrase in China that refers to people who were born in the 1940s, came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, and experienced the Cultural Revolution during the early years of their career. For Li and his contemporaries, the way they think and act was largely shaped by the first three decades of the PRC, during which the kind of art and photography they were exposed to and allowed to practice was extremely limited and homogenous. Indeed, art for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was “merely another weapon in the arsenal of class struggle” (16). This starkly narrow and highly politicized role of art was laid out by Chairman Mao as early as May 1942 in his influential Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, in which Mao essentially demanded art to be subservient to the CCP’s mission and be in the service the CCP’s constituency of “workers, peasants and soldiers.” (17) Mao’s talks set the tone for the country’s cultural policy from 1949 to 1979, during which CCP developed a Soviet-style bureaucratic structure and implemented various administrative policies to manage the country’s artists and art making (18). Also being adopted from the Soviet Union, the most influential foreign source of culture, was Socialist Realism, a style of idealized realistic art, that gradually came to dominate all aspects of Chinese creative work, notably painting, sculpture, theatre, literature and architecture (19). By 1979, the CCP had effectively eradicated most aesthetic styles and techniques that it considered politically unacceptable (20).

Of course, this is not to say that Chinese artists in the Mao era were merely passive transcribers of party ideologies. As Liu and Lu nuancedly illustrated with the examples of filmmaker and photographer Wu Yinxian and painter Dong Xiwen, even when artists were working to express the political authority they served, individual artistic experience and aspiration could still factor in the formation of their work (21). Yet, it is undeniable that art in the Mao era was first and foremost a bearer of political ideology, not an individual aesthetic expression. Furthermore, Mao’s directives from his 1942 Yan’an Talks continue to remind us that the only legitimate source of artwork at that time was the life of the people:

"The life of the people is always a mine of the raw materials for literature and art, materials in their natural form, materials that are crude, but most vital, rich and fundamental; they make all literature and art seem pallid by comparison; they provide literature and art with an inexhaustible source, their only source. They are the only source, for there can be no other." (22)

As a result, landscapes, birds, and flowers, subjects that had long prevailed in traditional Chinese art, were replaced by revolutionary heroes and models, such as workers, soldiers, and peasants (23). Under this circumstance, it is not surprising that in 2004, when artist and curator Zhang Zhaohui wrote the text for the exhibition “Me! Me! Me!” that featured self-portrait oil paintings by a group of contemporary Chinese artists held at Beijing’s CourtYard Gallery, he asserted:

"In China’s visual art spectrum before and during the Cultural Revolution, it was very difficult for people to find an image that represented the individual “I”. Instead, what people found was a collective, heroic and idealist but stereotyped image of “He” or “She”. This was a “typical” image of so-called socialist revolutionary realism, idealism, and romanticism. What is very easy to understand is that socialist ideology at that time put individual persons at the opposite of the Collective and the State and thereby thoroughly eliminated the need for an “I”. Even in the 1980s when a wave of Westernization in the name of “Thought Liberation” made a great impact on conservative traditional ideology, individualism was still the target of censorship in the official discourse. Because in the official propaganda language of the time, “I” only had value and meaning when the “Small I” (as individual) and the “Big I” (as member of the Collective) were combined. In this case, we are still left pondering, “Who Am I?”" (24)

Indeed, the search for individual subjectivity was a luxury few people could afford in those three decades following the establishment of the PRC, particularly during the Cultural Revolution when the entire country sank into extreme radicalism and catastrophic stagnation. During this ten-year period of social and political chaos caused by Mao’s bid to use the masses to regain control over the CCP, many established artists, along with other intellectuals and officials at different administrative levels, were purged, tortured, imprisoned or even driven to suicide, and their homes were raided and artworks destroyed. Two types of portraiture, as part of Mao’s larger mind-control mechanism, permeated almost all areas of people’s everyday life during this time: first, the iconography of Mao, the Great Helmsman of the Revolution, who appeared as a God-like figure in countless badges, posters, paintings, murals, stamps, statues and figurines, newspaper and magazine photographs, teapots and other ceramic wares, and, perhaps most notably, covers of Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, also known as Mao’s Little Red Book; second, the romanticized imagery of “He” or “She”, as Zhang describes it, that represented a collective identity of  the ideal workers, peasants, or soldiers (25). This type of portraiture, like that of Mao’s, were also ubiquitous in millions of propaganda posters, paintings, banknotes, postal stamps, press photographs, and even household goods such as matchboxes. Through “repetition and duplication,” these two types of portraitures, along with revolutionary slogans, were massively produced to “fill up a high time/space”, thus “creating a coercive, homogenous verbal and visual language in a most static form.” (26)

Against this backdrop, Li’s self-portraiture stands out. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, the young photographer quietly yet religiously turned his camera lens toward himself and clicked the self-timer shutter release, not once or twice, but thousands of times, to record and celebrate himself as an individual. By doing so, he unconsciously walked a path that diverged from the conventional history of Chinese art and photography.

At this point, it might be necessary to address several questions: Was photography art in China at that time? How do we understand Li’s self-portraiture as art? Indeed, during the first three decades of the PRC, photography was not considered an art from, at least from an institutional perspective. Art schools did not offer photography programs; art journals did not deal with photographic matters; art museums did not collect photographic prints. Most notably, artists such as painters and sculptors were administered by the China Artists Association founded in 1949, whereas photographers were under the auspice of the China Photographers Association established in 1956. Most professional photographers, except those employed by portrait studios, worked for media outlets. The situation had much to do with Chinese photography’s “red” origin (27). As early as the 1930s when the communist army was waging guerilla warfare with Japan, the CCP started to develop photography as a propaganda weapon to facilitate its war efforts. Many soldiers were trained to become photographers. Their images, depicting the bravery of the communist soldiers and the atrocities of the enemy, appeared as journalistic work in various publications and exhibitions (28). It is fair to say that, from the onset, photography’s aesthetic and expressive potential was only a “sidekick”, something of a secondary nature, in aid of its communicative and propagandist function. After 1949, Chinese photography continued to evolve within the media realm and served primarily as a propaganda tool.

So, if photography was not art, how do we categorize Li’s work? This paper does not intend to delineate the inextricable boundaries between photography’s aesthetic/expressive and documentary/communicative dimensions. Instead, it perceives Li’s work, his self-portraiture in particular, as a cultural product that can be analyzed on both fronts. It further argues that, by carving out a space beyond the official parameters in which Li practiced photography, he assumed a fluid identity that allowed him to navigate the contested territories where art, documentary and propaganda meet.

Li’s Self-Portraiture: An Autobiography in Photographs

Li’s personal journey, from early to middle adulthood, is revealed through his self-portraiture generated over twenty years. With this body of work, he furnishes us with an insight into his life and personality: we see him at work or at play, alone or with his family and friends; we observe the different aspects of his identity and witness significant moments in his life—attending college, falling in love, landing a job, getting married, becoming a father. Unlike many western photographers or contemporary Chinese photographers who mine their own bodies as sources to take up other characters, Li was consistently in his own element as he photographed himself. The dairy-like referent is explicitly denominated throughout. As such, we can consider his self-portraiture an autobiography in photographs.

Among the over 1600 self-portraits by Li I that I identified in my field trips, I was able to establish the dates of more than half of them. The autobiographic traits emerging from these images lead me to categorize them into four time periods: 1, High-school Period (1956-1959); 2, College Period (1960-1963); 3, Heilongjiang Period (1963-1980); 4, Beijing Period and onward (1980-). In what follows, I will give an overview of each set of images and analyze specific images, and also explore how they respond to Li’s personal experiences and China’s socio-political shifts.

High School Period (1956-1959)

In 1956, Li started to practice photography. While attending junior high school in Dalian where his father was working, he joined his school’s camera club and shared a school-owned Czechoslovakian-made 120 Brownie-type camera with other club members. Later that year, he obtained his first camera—a second-hand Japanese 120—in a trade for his stamp collection (29). His self-portraits from this period were made with these two cameras. However, it appears that he did not take his first self-portrait until February 1958 when he went back to Rongcheng county, Shandong province, to visit his family during Spring Festival. The images he took then were always with others—Li stands by his grandfather Li Xingcun or among his extended family in front of the family house, or plays a board game with his cousin, his revered grandfather in the background. Ordinary as they may look, these images speak much about Li’s origin and childhood: when he was three, his mother died of poor health in Dalian, and his father, a cook on a steamboat, took him and his younger sister to back to Rongcheng county, their hometown, to be cared for by their grandparents and his father’s first wife (30). It may be fair to say that Li’s self-discovery journey started from his family and home in Rongcheng.

The year 1958 marks the start of the Great Leap Forward campaign (1958-62). On October 1st that year, Li and four of his schoolmates completed a mural for the campaign, an example of collective production of art within the masses typical of the Mao era. To commemorate their collective accomplishment, Li took a group self-portrait in front of the mural with his friends, in which he is positioned second to right (31). The mural depicts a large dragon boat braving the waves while carrying some Chinese workers and peasants who are banging drums and gongs to celebrate their victory over the United States and the Great Britain, represented by two smaller boats lagging behind, the sailors of which are looking at the dragon boat in despair. A slogan typical of the Great Leap Forward was written on the mural: “[Achieve] Greater, Faster, Better and More Economical [Results].” [Fig. 1] At the early stage of the campaign, Li and his peers were told that the country would catch up with, or even surpass, the US and the UK in terms of living standards. Having contributed to the campaign by painting a propaganda mural, these young students’ eyes were beaming with pride and excitement.

 

Fig. 1, Li, second to right, and his friends pose for a group portrait in front of the Great Leap Forward mural collectively created by them, October 1, 1958.
Fig. 1, Li, second to right, and his friends pose for a group portrait in front of the Great Leap Forward mural collectively created by them, October 1, 1958.

 

At that time, Li aspired to become a professional painter. He studied painting three nights a week at the Dalian Popular Fine Arts Center. In fact, it was there that he had the epiphany of photographing his self: after seeing reprints of Rembrandt’s and Van Gogh’s self-portraits, he told himself, “That’s what great masters do—they make art on themselves!” (32) Quite a few of Li’s self-portraits during this period reveal his artistic inclination and temperament. In one image, he presents himself as an artist, holding a brush and standing next to a Chinese ink painting [Fig. 2]. In another, he becomes a photographer, recording a sports event with a camera in hand [Fig. 3]. The most poetic piece Li made of his self during this time is a silhouette image of himself holding a book he is reading against the frame of a which, with drooping willow branches hanging from the left corner of the window [Fig. 4]. Following China’s long pictorial tradition, Li created in this simple image a world reminiscent of the ancient Chinese literati aesthetic and styled himself as a scholar-gentleman.

 

 

Li did not become a painter though. Instead, he envisioned a career in cinematography in August 1960 as he attended the Changchun Film Institute. The institute was established earlier that year at the request from the higher authorities. During the Great Leap Forward, it was decided that each province ought to have a film studio. In order to train enough film professionals to fill these studios, the Ministry of Culture opened two new film schools in China, one in Changchun and the other in Shanghai, in addition to the Beijing Film Academy established in 1950. Although Li was only a first-year senior high school student at that time, his teachers encouraged him to take the entrance examination of the Changchun Film Institute, which he did, and was subsequently admitted (33).

College Period (1960-1963)

Li produced hundreds of self-portraits during his time at the Changchun Film Institute between August 1960 and July 1963, a lot more in quantity compared to the twenty-some he made when he was in high school. For him, as a student of cinematography, film stock was more readily available, but the increase also indicates his growing interest in his self as an individual. His self-portraits during this time continued to include group shots, primarily with his classmates, but such images were significantly outnumbered by those in which Li appeared alone. He took center stage in his image world as he experimented the photographic medium. Very often, he would present his likeness in the manner of a traditional, standard portrait: standing straight in the middle of the photographic frame and facing directly toward the camera. Yet, Li did not assume the role of a passive sitter, nor did he attempt to invite interpretation of his works by making them abstract. Instead, he incorporates markers of his life in these self-portraits and assigns them a commemorative value: holding at hand the first camera he received from the college, wearing a sweater vest he knitted for himself, driving a tractor for the first time in the field, or visiting an ancient Buddhist temple.

A motif in this series of work is the wooden sign of the Changchun Film Institute that hung outside its main entrance. Placing it in the background or holding it in his arms, Li made quite a few self-portraits with the sign, alone or with his classmates, at different phases during his college years: upon his arrival at the institute, before graduation, and a number of times in between. We can tell he was proud to be a student there. Indeed, the training in cinematography Li received there had a long-lasting impact on his visual style, as he applied filmmaking technique such as panning, montage, shot reverse shot, mise-en-scène to achieve a cinematic look in his still imagery. Furthermore, it was there that Li met his mentor Wu Yinxian, the renowned filmmaker and photographer, who told him that the task of a photographer is not only to be “a witness to history” but to “record history.” It was with these words in mind that Li later shot many politically negative images and preserved these “negative negatives” at great personal risk during the Cultural Revolution. In the course of his college years, Li yearned to become a successful a filmmaker and photographer as Wu. On December 8, 1961, he took a self-timer portrait as he stood sideways in front of a huge banner announcing Wu Yinxian’s solo photography exhibition in Changchun. His anxious eyes looked toward the left, as if gazing into an uncertain future [Fig. 5].

 

 

Around this time, Li produced a small personal work-in-progress album he titled “Me” [Fig. 6]. It consists of double-sided accordion pages holding very small-size self-portraits. Many of these photographs were made from class assignments in which students were asked to practice portraiture with different lighting setups. Li would use his friends as models, but his lens always returned to his self, leading eventually to the creation of “Me” which contains 375 35mm contact prints of his self-portraits. These prints were arranged not by date, nor by theme, but by their orientation—all verticals on one side of the accordion pages, horizontals on the other, very much like a stamp album would appear. In 1956, Li had traded his stamp collection for his first camera. He now used photography to collect the fleeting moments in his life.

 

 

The hand-made album could be perceived as a curation by him of his life during this period. Image after image, page after page, Li showcases his life: reading or writing, going boating or swimming, putting up makeup for an amateur opera performance, doing needlework, playing the guitar, or operating a motion-picture camera. The list goes on. Yet, it is a tightly selective view. The album includes only joyous moments. What we do not see is how political circumstances affected his life. From 1958 to 1962, as a consequence of the failed Great Leap Forward, China underwent one of the most devastating famines in human history, losing about 36 million lives (34). Li suffered from hunger and malnutrition. And yet, we see none of this in “Me.” Nor do we see his anger and frustration when he was forced to give up his dream of a career in cinematography, after Beijing decided to close the two film studios and his college, all set up merely three years earlier, again due to the poor planning during the Great Leap Forward. Agitated, Li petitioned to Chen Huangmei, the director of the National Film Bureau, in August 1962. Chen promised Li that he would recommend the cinematography students to news organizations and film studios in Beijing. Later, Li and four of his classmates were recruited by the Xinhua News Agency. The principal of his school, upset by Li’s petition that went over his head, demanded that Li swap his Xinhua position with another student who had been assigned to work at a research institute in Harbin. Disheartened, Li decided to seek his own employment, a rare thing to do at that time, eventually landing a job at the Heilongjiang Daily (35). He buried his anger and discontent for years. It was not until 1966 that he vented his feelings by means of two self-portraits.

Heilongjiang Period (1963-1980)

Li joined the Heilongjiang Daily on August 15, 1963 and stayed there until the early 1980s. This period was the most defining years for him on all creative fronts: his propaganda imagery for his newspaper, his documentary work for posterity, and his self-portraiture. He remembers that as he completed his assignments for the newspaper, he would always make sure a couple of unexposed frames remained at the end of the last roll of film stills in each of his expensive German-made cameras—a square format Rolleiflex and a 35mm Leica M3— “Just in case something were to happen on the way back to the newspaper.” Rarely did this ever occur. Film, however, was a precious commodity in China at that time, not to be wasted. Before processing the negatives in the newspaper’s darkroom, Li would transform his small office into a photo studio, and expose the last frames to produce portraits of himself with the help of the camera’s self-timer or a remote control cord.

Those few remaining frames on rolls of film gave him the chance to generate more personal images. They could have been still-lives, views from his window, or snapshots of his colleagues. Yet, consistent with what he had been doing since his high school days, Li chose himself as the main subject of his artistic endeavor. It was a unique opportunity for him to somehow make up for his broken dream of making films, as he would confess later to Pledge, “to become simultaneously the director, screenwriter, cameraman, and the main actor” of what he refers to as his “one-image movies.” (36)

In these “one-image movies”, Li nurtured a directorial approach of image-making. Though Pledge sees a “Cindy Sherman streak” in his self-portraiture (37), Li’s work actually professes a different directorial mode than that of Sherman: Li never attempts to take up the role of someone else, to assume another identity, or project the image of a particular type of people. For him, only specific personal experience plays a crucial role in his self-portraits. They are only meant to tell his stories, convey his emotions, preserve his memories. In this series of work, the everyday objects are often deployed as props, and the found situation turned into a mise-en-scène. In the recurring setting of his small office at the newspaper, he posed himself holding or cleaning a camera, doing needlework, reading a letter, or making a phone call [Fig. 7].

 

 

In other situations he found himself in, Li also comfortably exposes his body, character and life: resting in his dorm bed; pretending to be dozing off at a meeting during the Socialist Education Movement; enjoying his first-ever bath in a tub when he stayed at a hotel during a professional trip; posing naked after a swim in a river, with an open car door covering the middle part of his body; joining his friends to create a pictorial, silhouette view framed by trees near the Songhua River; drinking and toasting with a friend on a made-do picnic ground [Fig. 8]. In each single image, Li composes a personal narrative that focuses solely on his own being, unfettered by the ethos of the Mao era.

 

 

One image in particular encapsulates the disobedience in Li’s character [Fig. 9]. It was taken on February 10, 1966 when Li took a professional trip to Beijing. Contrary to a stereotypical portrait usually taken in Tiananmen Square during the Mao era, which shows a person standing in front of Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, with Mao’s portrait in the background, in this image, Li poses himself shaking his fist at a stone lion sitting at the entrance to Tiananmen to vent his anger and express his determination: he could have worked in Beijing, the capital city of China, as a reporter at Xinhua News Agency. But his college principal, representing in his mind an authoritarian system symbolized by the stone lion, punished him for his rebellious act, the petition, and changed the course of his life. Li vowed to himself that he would make a comeback one day (38).

 

 

Another self-portrait, made in the familiar setting of Li’s office, captures a similar spirit. [Figure 10] In this widely published image, Li impersonates an operatic war hero, with his eyes looking forcefully into the camera, head cocked, hands ripping his shirt open to expose his bare chest, as if he were ready to confront all adversity. Critics say the “fearlessness and humanity” Li demonstrates in this picture speak to the strength of his character, which drove him to capture the “real images of the Cultural Revolution.” (39) Indeed, Li’s gesture in this image, like that of his raising fist at the stone lion, has become a graphic, larger-than-life symbol of discontent and resistance.

 

 

Li made this photograph on June 15, 1966, exactly a month into the decade-long Cultural Revolution. In the heat of the summer, Chairman Mao told youth across the country, “It is right to rebel.” Mobilized and inflamed, students all over China quickly turned themselves into Red Guards and rebelled against all types of authorities—parents, teachers, officials—causing much violence and thrusting the country into a turmoil. Sensing his work would be disrupted unless he also became a Red Guard, Li borrowed a Red Guard armband from a friend who worked at the printing shop of his newspaper and wore it at different public events he was photographing. A self-portrait made on July 6, 1966 depicts him wearing this acquired armband, standing and smiling assertively with his arms folded over his chest [Fig. 11]. A few weeks later, on August 28, he formed his own rebel group, the “Red Youth Fighting Team.” (40) This self-assigned status was, in his own words, “better than a press card.” (41) It gave him the credentials to quietly enter public spaces to document events such as mass rallies, criticism sessions, even executions, without any pushback.

 

 

But the violence of the Red Guards movement inevitably entered into Li’s private life. Sun Peikui, Li’s first love and girlfriend from college, was resigned to break up with him. Sun’s mother, accused of being brought up in a landlord family, was humiliated, tortured, and driven to suicide. Sun herself was labeled “daughter of a dog landlord”. Worried that their relationship might jeopardize Li’s future, Sun married someone else (42). Months before they broke up on May 2, 1967, Li managed to take a picture of the two of them, with Li’s image as a reflection in a mirror [Fig. 12]. This is one of the very few photographs Li made with Sun and himself together—in those days, couples did not take pictures together unless they were married. Using a mirror to include himself in the frame was Li’s technique.

 

 

Six months later, on January 6, 1968, Li married his newspaper colleague Zu Yingxia,. His wedding picture—this time taken by his co-worker Liu Qixiang—shows him and his bride each wearing criticism placards around their necks that read, “Groom taking the Socialist road” and “Bride taking the Socialist road,” with a wall of Mao’s portrait and quotations in the background [Fig. 13]. Red Guards used criticism placards to humiliate the “counter-revolutionaries and revisionists.” Li’s colleagues improvised these placards for fun. He did take several photographs with Zu on their wedding night reading the “Red Sun” photo album given to them by their colleagues [Fig. 14].

 

Fig. 13, Wedding picture of Li and Zu Yingxia, January 6, 1968. Photographed by Liu Qixiang, under Li’s instruction.
Fig. 13, Wedding picture of Li and Zu Yingxia, January 6, 1968. Photographed by Liu Qixiang, under Li’s instruction.

 

After his marriage, family life starts to appear in Li’s self-portraiture. We start seeing these sweet moments of him and his family sitting around the dinner table, reading, chatting, relaxing, in the intimate space of home [Fig. 15]. We also see him feeding his son, Li Xiaohan, in one picture [Fig. 16], and holding his daughter, Li Xiaobing, in another [Fig. 17]. In Chinese, “Xiaoban” means “laughing at the cold” and “Xiaobing” means “laughing at the ice.” Heilongjiang, sitting in China’s farthest northeastern corner, has long and bitter winters. With these two names, Li was hoping his children would be as resilient and optimistic as he was. Around the time when Xiaohan was born, in October 1968, Li experienced some of the worst nightmarish circumstances in his life. The Red Guard group of an opposite camp first attacked him with big character posters, then organized a criticism session exclusively for him. His home was searched, his cameras confiscated, and he was forbidden from taking photographs for the newspaper. Some of his colleagues even turned against him and physically abused him. On September 6, 1969, in the name of “rectification” and “reeducation,” he and his wife were sent to the Liuhe May 7th Cadre School in the countryside, where they were held until February 1972, to engage in heavy manual labor, day in and day out. With two cameras he secretly smuggled into the camp, Li managed to snip a few frames. One of them, a self-portrait made on January 5, 1970, epitomizes the resilience and optimism in his character: Li, standing alone in a snow-covered forest, looks firmly into the distance with a smile on the face [Fig. 18]. The same strength that drove him to document the dark side of the Cultural Revolution also helped him to survive it.

 

 

Mao died on September 9th, 1976, effectively putting an end to the Cultural Revolution. On September 18, Li joined the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Harbin’s People’s Stadium to mourn Mao. Li produced a triptych allowing a panoramic view of the scene from the top of a fire engine’s big ladder. But then, later, he would turn a camera around and make a self-portrait at ground level [Fig. 19].

 

 

Beijing Period (1980s)

Li began teaching photojournalism at Beijing’s International Political Science Institute in 1980, and formally joined its faculty in 1982. Although taking pictures had become much easier after he left the newspaper thanks to the relaxation of the political climate in the post-Mao era and thanks to a fast-growing economy that had made picture-taking more affordable, Li generated significantly fewer self-portraits. His self-portraits since the 1980s seem to serve more of a publicity purpose, being made primarily to promote his books, exhibitions or news stories about him. There is nonetheless one photograph that stands out that signals the completion of his self-discovery and self-realization journey: a self-timer image in which he, standing side by side with his mentor Wu Yinxian, smiles confidently at the camera [Fig. 20]. The photograph was taken in Beijing on March 7, 1982. During that time, he regularly lectured with Wu and other “masters” at photography workshops around China. Their names appeared on the same programs. Although Li was yet to reach national fame, which would happen in 1988 when he received a top award in the national “The Hard Journey” competition for his work on the Cultural Revolution, his legacy had been established.

 

 

Me, Mao and the Masses: intertwining identities, interplaying power relations

The close examination of Li’s self-portraits reveals a surprising lack of political overtone in this body of work. There are visual referents here and there—like the dragon-boat mural, the Red Guard armband, or the Red Sun album—but these were very personal objects, betraying little of the external world beyond his immediate reality. This is particularly astounding, considering that Li’s years of creative output overlap with some of the most troubled times in China’s recent history—the Great Leap Forward campaign and the Great Famine afterwards, the Socialist Education Movement, and the Cultural Revolution—and that his life and career were seriously affected by them. Filled with his charismatic presence and devoid of the harsh reality of the time, Li’s self-portraiture retains a theatrical tone that contrasts sharply with his two other bodies of work: his propaganda photography that was extensively published in the Heilongjiang Daily at the time, and his documentation of the Socialist Education Movement followed by the Cultural Revolution, the “negative negatives” of which he preserved under the floorboard of his single-room apartment.

From these three bodies of work, we can detect how power relations and politically sanctioned notions of identity are inscribed, negotiated, and challenged in Li’s photography. During the Mao era, the CCP had absolute dominance over China’s mass communication. As a staff photographer for the Heilongjiang Daily, Li was essentially a servant of the state. The state rewarded him materially in exchange for his labor—producing photographs to meet political needs. Li did so, often by setting up the scenes, staging his subjects, and manipulating and retouching his images. As a propaganda worker, he was part of the creative force that reaffirmed the Communist ideology and fueled the cult of Mao. Seeing his work published also gave him a sense of accomplishment. He prided himself of being able to take an innovative approach. Inspired by the “panning” technique often used in Soviet cinematography, he came up with composite panoramic diptych, triptych and polyptych images that would occupy more columns on the pages of his newspaper (43). In many of his self-portraits, he depicts himself as a dedicated, diligent photojournalist. His subjective self is exploited in ways to make his personal ambition operate in harmony with political objectives. The complex power equation between his personal identification and his professional performativity is particularly acute in the self-portrait in which Li presents himself as a Red Guard. In this image, the Red Guard armband, the emblem of glory and righteousness endorsed by Mao, brings a genuine smile to Li’s face. Wearing the armband, he became a trustworthy photojournalist in the eye of other Red Guards, Mao’s most fervent supporters and followers, thus granting him the access to photograph in numerous occasions during the Cultural Revolution with less restriction. He adhered to and capitalized on this public, performed identity to achieve a personal agenda—taking photographs of both sides of the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, the propaganda culture of the Maoist state in which the focus was always on the “red, bright and shining” aspects of things is also deeply ingrained in Li’s photographs of himself. In this body of work, Li, through a highly selective and controlled lens, consistently projects his life and personality in a positive light. In this sense, Li’s self-portraiture, aligning itself with his official, propaganda imagery, ironically alludes to his own cult of personality in the Maoist fashion.

Yet, at the same time, Li’s self-portraits, especially those made during the Cultural Revolution, can also be understood as a mode of resistance and an act of rebellion. During the early phase of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and 1967, in an attempt to wipe out the so-called “four olds”—old customs, habits, culture and ideas—an indefinite number of personal photographs and family albums, viewed as decadent cultural elements, were destroyed. To regulate and promote a new visual code for portraiture, the People’s Daily offered its recommendations to photo studios across China: no wedding or family portraits should be taken; no portraits featuring a person’s profile should be made; in a portrait, the lighting source should be frontal, with a low tonal contrast; sunglasses were forbidden, and the sitter must wear plain clothes (44). As a result, the prevailing norm of portrait-making at that time assumed that “people of all ages, with the help of photographers, performed in front of the camera to act out contemporary ideals that conformed to a collective consciousness.” (45) In contrast, Li’s self-portraiture was defiant in both content and form. He photographed himself from the front and the side, with different lighting setups including dramatic silhouettes. He wore plain clothes, but sometimes nothing at all. In his early portraits from the college years, he was often seen wearing sunglasses. Furthermore, while he often painted a favorable image of himself, these positive depictions reflect what he cherished in his life and personality as an individual: taking a bath in a tub, enjoying a picnic with a friend, reading a love letter from his girlfriend, or simply being a caring husband and father, and above all, his anger of a repressed, lost cinematic dream, and his determination to leave Heilongjiang. These private, intimate moments and raw emotions were consistently at odds with the Communist ideal propagated by the Maoist discourse, as exemplified by images of glorified workers, peasants and soldiers in countless Cultural Revolution posters. In framing himself in the foreground, rejecting politics to invade his personal space, and infusing his personal values in his self-portraiture, Li refused to derive his sense of self from a collective identity. Instead, he affirmed his individual subjectivity and called into question the privileged relationship between Mao and the Masses, between the Great Helmsman and his faithful followers, between an infallible authority and a socially engineered conformity, interchangeable and anonymous.

Photographing himself has been a ritual for Li. In doing so, he risks the accusation of egocentrism and narcissism, two traits that are commonly used to criticize today’s so-called “selfie generation” (46). In his own defense, Li states, “Self-portraiture is an expression of loving one’s self, or so-called ‘self-indulgence’. But if one doesn’t even love one’s self, how can one love others and society?” (47) Yet, while Li’s self-portrait making and the contemporary selfie practice both involve representing one’s self through photography, they are fundamentally different. Selfies, made with a peer or public gaze in mind, beg for social interaction and endorsement. Validation from others is an essential element in the construction of one’s sense of self-worth. Li’s “one-image movies”, on the other hand, were intended for only a one-member viewership of himself due to socio-political constraints during the Cultural Revolution. In constructing a representation of himself, by himself and for himself, detached from public scrutiny, Li successfully negotiated a position of artistic autonomy in the Mao era. This is not to say that his self-portrait practice was immune to the external world. Far from it, as discussed above, the political and media culture during that period, internalized by him, was embedded in his professional self-representation. With his other self-portraits, he unleashed more personal feelings and desires repressed by the Mao era. Toying with the distance between a coherent inner self and a disjoined public persona, this body of self-referential images unveils Li’s dual personality that allowed him to approach the Cultural Revolution as an honest documentarian and an idealistic propagandist.

Conclusion

On the evening of February 24, 1960, sitting in his classroom in Dalian, Li composed a short essay entitled “Me” on his notebook: “My time in the world will last at the most a limited number of decades, but I will spend my life as if it were worth a few thousand years of gold. I will make it glitter, beautiful and sweet.” (48)

Li was 19 years old at that time. Like most young people of his age, he showed a strong interest in himself and had great expectations for his future, which does seem quite natural. What made him out of the ordinary was his sense of self-worthiness that motivated him to become the photographer who would single-handedly produce the most extensive visual record of the Cultural Revolution known to exist. His life and legacy have been inevitably marked by this eventful decade. As he embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-actualization, he would create a personal visual diary, a collection of autobiographical self-portraits spanning more than twenty years of his life. A fundamental part of his photographic oeuvre, Li’s self-portraiture complements his documentation of the Cultural Revolution. It zooms into the life and character of the lively, robust and uncompromising young individual who at times takes pleasure in discovering and experimenting with new things, certainly trivial and mundane compared to Mao’s grand Communist agenda, thus conveying an immensely humanistic message, while at other times he will stands by the said grand agenda and takes up a revolutionary role to carry out his propagandist and documentary work. Li’s unique personal manifestation therefore becomes a symbolic space in which we can explore the distance between “Me” and Mao, between an idiosyncratic, private self and a professional, public persona indeed shaped by the prevalent ideological era.

In her 1977 book, “On Photography,” American writer Susan Sontag confides her meditations and views on Chinese photography: “The Chinese circumscribe the uses of photography so that there are no layers or strata of images, and all images reinforce and reiterate each other….In China, where no space is left over from politics and moralism for expression of aesthetic sensibility, only some things are to be photographed and only in certain ways.” (49) Although Sontag’s thoughts result solely from the harsh criticism Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni received from the Chinese government for his 1972 documentary, “Chung Kuo, Cina”, as well as from personal observations she collected during her 1973 trip to China, they are deeply insightful. Indeed, three types of imagery define China’s visual culture under Mao, particularly during the Cultural Revolution: first, the pervasive iconography of Mao, second, the omnipresent image of idealized workers, peasants and soldiers, and third, the formulaic and sanctified personal and family photographs. Together, they formed a visual uniformity that stifled individual expression. Refusing to join the collective unconscious as embodied by his panoramic photographs of nameless multitudes lost in their revolutionary zeal, Li sought an antidote in his subversive “negative negatives” and his self-portraits, thus becoming one of the rare artists who secretly achieved a high degree of creative independence during that tumultuous era.

In post-Mao China, a new generation of artists emerged. Intensely concerned with their own identity, many of them produced self-portraits and images of the body, predominantly in the 1990s (50). The art historian Wu Hung summarizes four basic representational modes regarding these experimental self-images: the first is interactive in nature, be it interacting with historical sites, political institutions, or people in the present; the second explicitly exhibits the body, using it as a vehicle for self-expression; the third disguises the self as fictional characters or transforms the self into symbolic images; the fourth deliberately displays the self with calculated ambiguity in an attempt to provoke the question, “Is it me?” rather than to make the statement, “It is me!” (51) Comparing and contrasting Li’s self-portraiture with these new approaches, one immediately recognizes a clear generational gap. The two respond to different socio-historical circumstances, develop different inner logics, reflect different artistic mindsets, and incarnate therefore different representational modes. Whereas Li’s self-portraiture speaks to his dual identity as an individual who had to negotiate his reality and navigate his creative space under Mao, the young artists of the 1990s, having come to terms with the Maoist past, aimed to deploy their self-representation as a means to engage the country’s current realities characterized by an increasingly commercialized and globalized culture paired with a post-1989 socio-political mentality.

Li did not participate in China’s post-Mao art scene. This was not because he felt his legacy had already been firmly established, but rather due to his consistent and conscious self-positioning as a witness and recorder of history: he would go on to document the popular upheavals in Beijing in 1989 and the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, both as a free, independent agent. Despite the drastic difference between his and China’s experimental self-portraiture of the 1990s, one can actually find subtle yet profound connections between Li’s self-portraiture from the 1950s through the 1970s and China’s overall artistic quests in the following decades: to Li’s celebration of common human needs and aspirations, succeeded a collective pursuit for humanism that prevailed in the modern art movement of the 1980s; to Li’s articulation of his individual subjectivity, a turn to personal expression that characterized the contemporary art trend of the 1990s (52). It must have taken Li either a peculiar artistic sensitivity or a precocious historical foresight to have both these themes running seamlessly as undertones in his self-reflexive imagery. In conclusion, I would therefore suggest that we look at Li Zhensheng’s self-portraiture as a critical juncture that foreshadows a humanistic and subjective turn in the subsequent decades in the history of China’s art and photography.

 

All images in this paper are copyrighted © Li Zhensheng/Contact Press Images, NY.

Footnotes

(1) Dawn M. Wilson, “Facing the Camera: Self-Portraits of Photographers as Artists,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 70, no. 1 (2012): 55–66.

(2) Ina Loewenberg, “Reflections on Self-Portraiture in Photography,” Feminist Studies 25, no. 2 (1999): 399–408, https://doi.org/10.2307/3178687.

(3) Amelia Jones, “The ‘Eternal Return’: Self‐Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 4 (June 1, 2002): 947–78, https://doi.org/10.1086/339641.

(4) W. Ray Crozier and Paul Greenhalgh, “Self-Portraits as Presentations of Self,” Leonardo 21, no. 1 (1988): 29–33, https://doi.org/10.2307/1578412.

(5) Claude Cookman, “Edward Steichen’s Self-Portraits,” History of Photography 22, no. 1 (March 1, 1998): 65–71, https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.1998.10443919.

(6) Jui-Ch’i Liu, “Female Spectatorship and the Masquerade: Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills,” History of Photography 34, no. 1 (February 12, 2010): 79–89, https://doi.org/10.1080/03087290903361399.

(7) Andrés Garay and Jorge Latorre, “Martín Chambi: A ‘Self-Portrait,’” History of Photography 31, no. 2 (June 1, 2007): 201–9, https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2007.10443518.

(8) Jillian Lerner, “Nadar’s Signatures: Caricature, Self-Portrait, Publicity,” History of Photography 41, no. 2 (April 3, 2017): 108–25, https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2017.1279924.

(9) Monique L. Johnson, “Montage and Multiples in Hannah Maynard’s Self-Portraits,” History of Photography 41, no. 2 (April 3, 2017): 159–70, https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2017.1317461.

(10) Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein, Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age, 1 edition (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2015).

(11) Yasmin Ibrahim, “Instagramming Life: Banal Imaging and the Poetics of the Everyday,” Journal of Media Practice 16, no. 1 (January 2, 2015): 42–54, https://doi.org/10.1080/14682753.2015.1015800.

(12) David Nemer and Guo Freeman, “Selfies| Empowering the Marginalized: Rethinking Selfies in the Slums of Brazil,” International Journal of Communication 9, no. 0 (May 15, 2015): 16.

(13) Christina Shane-Simpson et al., “I Love My Selfie! An Investigation of Overt and Covert Narcissism to Understand Selfie-Posting Behaviors within Three Geographic Communities,” Computers in Human Behavior, 2019, 106158, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.106158; Laura E. Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell, “Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34, no. 10 (October 1, 2008): 1303–14, https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167208320061; P. Sorokowski et al., “Selfie Posting Behaviors Are Associated with Narcissism among Men,” Personality and Individual Differences 85 (2015): 123–27, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.004; Yasmin Ibrahim, “Social Networking Sites (SNS) and the’Narcissistic Turn’: The Politics of Self-Exposure.,” in Collaborative Technologies and Applications for Interactive Information Design: Emerging Trends in User Experiences, ed. Scott Rummler and Kwong Bor Ng (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009), 82–95, https://www.igi-global.com/book/collaborative-technologies-applications-interactive-information/165.

(14) Li Zhensheng, Red-Color News Soldier, ed. Robert Pledge (London: Phaidon Press, 2003).

(15) Interview with Li Zhensheng by the author, at Li Zhensheng's home in New York City, March 17, 2019.

(16) Geremie R. Barmé, In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture (Columbia University Press, 2000), 1.

(17) Mao Zedong, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” May 1942, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_08.htm.

(18) Julia F. Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1979 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

(19) Lorenz Bichler, “Coming to Terms with a Term: Notes on the History of the Use of Socialist Realism in China,” in In the Party Spirit: Socialist Realism and Literary Practice in the Soviet Union, East Germany and China, ed. Hilary Chung et al. (Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA: Rodopi B.V., 1996), 30–43.

(20) Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1979.

(21) Ding Liu and Carol Yinghua Lu, “From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: The Echoes of Socialist Realism,” Tate Research Publication, 2018, https://www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/tate-research-centre-asia/socialist-realism.

(22) Mao, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art.”

(23) Melissa Chiu, Art and China’s Revolution, 1st edition (New York: New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

(24) Zhang Zhaohui, “Who Am I? - Chinese Artists’ Personal Visual Narrative,” in Me! Me! Me! (Beijing, China: Courtyard Gallery, 2004), 8–9.

(25) Zhang, “Who Am I? - Chinese Artists’ Personal Visual Narrative.”

(26) Wu Hung, “Ruins, Fragmentation, and the Chinese Modern/Postmodern,” in Inside/out: China’s New Art, ed. Gao Minglu, 1st ed. (New York and San Francisco: University of California Press, 1998), 63.

(27) Gu Di, Zhongguo Hongse Sheying Shilu [Historical Record of Chinese Red Photography] (Taiyuan: Shanxi Renmin Chubanshe, 2009).

(28) Shi Li, “A Turn to Realism and Humanism from Propaganda: Chinese Photojournalism Practices between 1976 and 1988,” Asian Journal of Communication 28, no. 2 (2018): 115–34, https://doi.org/10.1080/01292986.2017.1371199.

(29) Li Zhensheng, Red-Color News Soldier, ed. Robert Pledge (London: Phaidon Press, 2003), 22–23.

(30) Ibid, 19–20.

(31) Ibid, 22.

(32) Interview with Li Zhensheng by the author, March 17, 2019.

(33) Li Zhensheng, Red-Color News Soldier, 23–24.

(34) Jisheng Yang, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962, ed. Edward Friedman, Stacy Mosher, and Jian Guo, trans. Stacy Mosher and Jian Guo (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

(35) Li Zhensheng, Red-Color News Soldier, 24–25.The Li Zhensheng Photography Museum on the campus of the Jianchuan Museum Cluster also has a collection of documents related to Li’s petition.

(36) Interview with Robert Pledge by the author, at the office of Contact Press Images, New York, NY, September 23, 2018.

(37) Interview with Robert Pledge by the author, September 23, 2018.

(38) Interview with Li Zhensheng by the author, March 17, 2019.

(39) Jason Harper, “The Revolution Will Be Photographed,” Kansas City Public Library, August 11, 2010, https://www.kclibrary.org/blog/kc-unbound/revolution-will-be-photographed.

(40) Li Zhensheng, Red-Color News Soldier, 79. The Li Zhensheng Photography Museum on the campus of Jianchuan Museum Clusters also keeps a rich collection of documents related to the Red Youth Fighting Team.

(41) Interview with Li Zhensheng by the author, March 17, 2019.

(42) Li Zhensheng, Red-Color News Soldier, 137.

(43) Interview with Li Zhensheng by the author, March 17, 2019.

(44) Jin Yongquan, Community Harmony: Photographs of Common Society in China (合家欢: 20世纪50-80年代的民间相片) (Beijing: China Photographic Publishing House, 2012), 220.

(45) Claire Roberts, “War and Propaganda,” in Photography and China (London: Reaktion Books, 2013), 114–16.

(46) Ibrahim, “Social Networking Sites (SNS) and the ’Narcissistic Turn’: The Politics of Self-Exposure.”; Sorokowski et al., “Selfie Posting Behaviors Are Associated with Narcissism among Men”; Buffardi and Campbell, “Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites”; Shane-Simpson et al., “I Love My Selfie! An Investigation of Overt and Covert Narcissism to Understand Selfie-Posting Behaviors within Three Geographic Communities”; Jung-Ah Lee and Yongjun Sung, “Hide-and-Seek: Narcissism and ‘Selfie’-Related Behavior,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 19, no. 5 (March 30, 2016): 347–51, https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2015.0486; Christopher T. Barry et al., “‘Let Me Take a Selfie’: Associations between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem,” Psychology of Popular Media Culture 6, no. 1 (2017): 48–60, https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000089.

(47) Li Zhensheng, “My Self-Portraits” (Unpublished Manuscript, N.D.).

(48) Li Zhensheng, “Me” (Unpublished Diary, February 24, 1960).

(49) Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1st edition (New York: Picador, 2001), 137–39.

(50) Wu Hung, “Between Past and Future: A Brief History of Contemporary Chinese Photography,” in Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, by Wu Hung and Christopher Phillips (New York and Chicago: International Center of Photography and Smart Museum of Art, 2004), 29.

(51) Ibid, 29–30.

(52) Wu Hung, “A Case of Being ‘Contemporary’: Conditions, Spheres, and Narratives of Contemporary Chinese Art,” in Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, ed. Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor, and Nancy Condee (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2009), 290–306.

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