Li Zhensheng was a photo journalist during China's cultural revolution in the 1960s and 70s. Li, a young man originally from Shandong Province, was relocated to Harbin, the frigid northern city on the edge of Siberia, to be a photojournalist for the newspaper there.
Although the Chinese Communist Party employed him at the state-run paper to take photos that would glorify the Mao's radical revolution, Li took it upon himself to document more than just the propaganda that his bosses asked him to emphasize.
Li knew that something had gone horribly wrong as Chairman Mao exhorted China's young red guards to bully their teachers, to kill intellectuals, to destroy cultural relics including the "four olds," and to make Mao himself into a god-like figure.
Determined to record all aspects of the chaos going on in Harbin at that time, Li captured the darkest aspects of the decade that China was ruled by a senile madman. He risked his life by shooting what he did and hiding the negatives so that his work would be preserved for history's sake. In 2003, Li published a collection of these photos in his book, Red Color News Soldier.
The book's format is: a short introduction from China historian Jonathan Spence, a few pages of writing from Li, photos from the time period he'd just described, more writing from Li, more photos, and so on for more than 300 pages. There are also a number of newspaper front pages mixed in throughout the book to give the reader a feel for what the official Party mouthpiece was spewing as well.
While the writing in the book is at times illuminating, the reason the book exists is to display Li's extensive photo collection. The photos in this book are not light reading. There are photos of property being destroyed, young children and working people declaring their love for their dear leader, and intellectuals and Party enemies being tortured, humiliated, and killed.
The following few photos aren't necessarily the "best" in the book, but they're ones that I could find on a quick internet search:
These photos speak for themselves. There are a couple hundred more like them in the book.
I'm glad I added Red Color News Soldier to my library. It's difficult to get through. But it is an important perspective on the madness that China descended into less than fifty years ago.
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