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Precious memories preserved in old photos
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-23 09:12

More than 160 years ago photography was introduced to the Chinese, who were understandably a little shy before the lens and flash in their first encounter with the new technology.

'Haircuts for the Tibetan children' by Meng Zi, 1959
Nowadays, the young have more than gotten to grips with photography through digital cameras and mobile phones.

For them, it is hard to imagine their grandparents' generation using a camera without a shutter, and lighting the scene with that smoky, fiery flash only ever seen now in movies.

But even though these old still cameras have long since been confined to the graveyard of history, the photos they took are treasured, as they capture many unforgettable moments of a time passed.

A collection of 160 pictures, which will be dusted off and put on show in May by the China Culture Promotion Society, a Beijing-based NGO, documents the remarkable changes in people's lifestyle and Chinese history over the last 100 years.

'C N Yang' by Deng Wei, 1994

'Love in the snow disaster' by Liu Jun, 1996
It will put before the world the best work of Chinese photographers from across the globe in the 20th century.

"Our appraisal work started early last year when we began accepting photos from professional and amateur photographers," said Qu Lili, secretary of the organizing committee.

The committee soon received the first contribution, a picture of Mao Zedong's sculpture, from an elderly connoisseur of the art from Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Qu estimated they had received at least 6,000 contributions from across the country by the deadline in October.

It was difficult to pick the best from so many good pictures, according to Qu. The final winners had to get the unanimous nod from all 12 judges, who hail from both home and abroad.

The final selection includes China's earliest self-shot photo of a couple Sun Xisheng and Sui Xinci in 1901, which was a milestone in China's relationship with the camera, yet remains unfamiliar to most Chinese.

The collection also includes a picture of Dr Norman Bethune performing an operation in a small temple near the frontline in 1939. The Canadian communist saved a lot of Chinese soldiers during the "War of Resistance against Japan"(1937-45).

'The first photo of Sun family' by Sui Xinci, 1901
There are precious records of significant moments in history, like the handshake between Premier Zhou Enlai and former US President Richard Nixon during the latter's visit to China in 1972.

Fascinating private photos showing common Chinese of different periods are also included. A number of them were sent in from Chinese people living abroad, and have a distinct foreign flavour.

'The dancer returns to the stage in her 60s' by Wang Yao, 1998
"Every picture looks perfect both from historic and artistic perspectives," said Lu Houmin, vice-director of the organizing committee.

With the shift to advanced digital devices, the collection is recognized as the farewell to a golden age of photography.

After the collection makes its debut, all 160 photos are scheduled to be exhibited in nine cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Jinan.

"The picture is the quickest and most truthful way of communicating," said Gao Zhanxiang, who was involved in the selection process. "We hope these treasured photos can once again move the Chinese people and inspire youngsters."

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