Cultural Revolution Documented

By Leonard Goh (freelance writer/Singapore)

Delve into a slice of China’s history with Li Zhensheng’s uncensored documentary of the Cultural Revolution

Between 1966 and 1976, China went through The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It was a tumultuous time for the people living in China, and socio-political upheavals were a common affair. However, under the regime of Mao Zedong, the media then were only allowed to portray the ruling party in the best light.

At that time, there was a young photojournalist by the name of Li Zhensheng who was shooting for the Heilongjiang Daily. His conviction of photography documenting the truth led him to point his lens at the society around him then, bar none. This uncensored reportage would certainly mean trouble if the authorities find out what he has shot, and the negatives were hidden underneath a floorboard at his home.

Showing for the first time in Southeast Asia, Li’s works are presented as part of this year’s Singapore International Photography Festival.

Held at The Arts House, Witness: The Archive of Cultural Revolution is a beautiful curation of Li’s works. The black and white prints are juxtapose against maroon panels and each print has detailed captions that reveal more about the images. We went there on a Saturday afternoon and it was crowded. Visitors were taking in the prints and immersing themselves into the chaos the prints were depicting.

In total, there are a staggering 116 prints on display. The panels also serves as a guide to direct audience in the flow of the images, and hence, the story that Li wants to show. It’s a large show, and one can easily spend 1 to 2 hours there to go through each print and read the captions.

Some square format prints were joined together to form a panorama, while keeping the black frames intact. This was a really interesting presentation method that we really enjoyed. They can be found mostly outside the gallery on the wall. It’s breathtaking to see the crowd that gathered in his photos, and one can easily lose themselves in the sea of people.

At the same time, a small section of the gallery gave us a glimpse into Li’s personal life then. We could see him, then, as a young photojournalist, with his girlfriend and family, and how he gradually evolved through the societal changes. Li is now a US citizen.

The importance of Li’s works cannot be more pronounced, granted that it is a documentary of a milestone in China’s history. It may sound preposterous, but we would akin Li’s works to that of Robert Capa, who had fervently recorded the turmoil during World War II and the Spanish Civil war.

We strongly recommend visitors to pick up a copy of the exhibition poster. It’s beautifully designed, and you can get one by simply donating any sum at the counter.


Witness: The Archive of Cultural Revolution
Venue: The Arts House. 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429
Date: 10 Sept to 29 Oct 2016
Time: 11AM to 8PM, Daily
Admission: Free



Leonard Goh

Leonard is an advocate of photography in Singapore and also an educator in this field. He has served as senior writer for the now-defunct CNET Asia, before moving on to working for various camera companies in the business development and marketing capacities. He is also a co-founder of Platform, a not-for-profit photography initiative in Singapore which also published Twentyfifteen, a collection of 20 books to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50).

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