CITYLIFE / Weekend & Holiday

Cultural Revolution in living color
(City Weekend)
Updated: 2006-08-08 14:10

A few months back, 798 Photo Gallery owner Chen Guangjun made an amazing discovery at the home of his friend, Weng Naiqiang: a treasure trove of color photos of the Cultural Revolution. Awestruck, he rushed the photos to exhibit.

"This exhibition is something really special. It's the first time ever that we get to see the Cultural Revolution in such vivid color, and portrayed by such a gifted photographer in his prime," Chen says.

The photos featured in this exhibit date back to 1966-7, the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, when Weng was staff photographer for People's China magazine (a Japanese- language publication run by the Foreign Press Bureau). Armed with his Rolleiflex twin-lens, Weng did the rounds as an accredited photographer, attending officially-organized events. The fruits of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are now on display at the 798 Photo Gallery.

"I was a big fan of Chairman Mao as a child in Indonesia, and really looked up to him. So at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, I was excited. China was starting to stand up for itself," Weng recalls.
Born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, Weng came to China in 1951 at the age of 15, attending middle school before entering the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he is now a professor. Under the tutelage of Ai Zhongxin, Wei Qimei and other pioneers of Chinese oil painting, he developed intuition for the canvas - an influence readily apparent in his portrait-style photographs.

In Photo One of the exhibit for example, Chairman Mao takes on an admiral-like persona at the helm of his Forbidden City flagship. On first glance, the ship seems to be moving away as the crowd of Red Guards wishes it farewell. Photo Three, taken near the Natural History Museum in Tiananmen Square, captures the unveiling of a propaganda poster created by students of the Gongyi Art and Design College: model citizens clasping their Chairman Mao writings. The observer is left to wander amidst the subjectivity of crowd.

The common thread is the vibrant color bringing to life a period often remembered in black and white, if at all Photo Two, for example, vividly depicts a demonstration at the Workers' Stadium in 1966. The poster - a reaction to the mistreatment of Chinese students in Moscow and to China's deteriorating relations with Russia - caricatures the Russians as evil fascists, hence the Nazi swastikas.

Photo Five captures the mass fervor of Red Guards at the start of the Cultural Revolution. Imagine the same picture in black and white. No comparison.

Tracing Back Origins: Images of the Cultural Revolution
Date: Until August 24
Location: 798 Photo Gallery, No.4 Jiuxianqiaolu, Chaoyang
Tel: 010-64381784