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Claude Cookman
IU School of Journalism

Margaret Key
IU East Asian Studies Center

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Beth Moellers
IU School of Journalism

Last modified: Monday, September 28, 2009

Photographer who documented China's Cultural Revolution visits IU Bloomington Oct. 6-7

Sept. 28, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Acclaimed Chinese photojournalist Li Zhensheng will come to Indiana University Bloomington Oct. 6-7 for a viewing of his photographs documenting the Cultural Revolution and to present two lectures.

Zhensheng photo

Photo by Li Zhensheng (Contact Press Images)

In this photo taken in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China, on Aug. 25, 1966, the staff of the Heilongjiang Daily newspaper criticize Luo Zicheng, leader of the committee work group of the Provincial Communist Party, claiming that he follows "the capitalist line" and "opposes the revolutionary mass movement." His dunce cap announces his "crimes."

Print-Quality Photo

At great personal risk, Li -- a photojournalist living in the northern Chinese province of Heilongjiang during the Cultural Revolution -- managed to hide and preserve more than 30,000 negatives during that 10-year period of upheaval.

Making images as a party-approved photographer for the Heilongjiang Daily, his body of work is the only known existing photographic documentation of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a period of modern history that has been largely hidden from the public eye both within China and abroad.

A collection of photographs from Li's Red-Color News Soldier exhibit, which have been presented worldwide and turned into a book, has been on display in the lobby of the IU School of Journalism since Sept. 16 and can be seen through Oct. 9. "Red-Color News Soldier" was the official title given to him by the communist party.

Li will give a lecture on the photographs on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in room 220 of Ernie Pyle Hall. A reception will follow in the Ernie Pyle Lounge. He and Robert Pledge, his co-author of Red-Color News Soldier: A Chinese Photographer's Odyssey through the Cultural Revolution (Phaidon, 2003), will be signing copies of the book before and after the lecture. IU's Friends of Art Bookstore will have copies available at a 20 percent discount. Proceeds go to scholarships for IU art students.

He will give a second talk, "Sex and the Revolution -- China in the Sixties," about his own personal experiences with sexual repression during the Cultural Revolution, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at noon at the University Club, located within the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St.

Li Zhensheng

Photo by François Rousseau (Contact Press Images)

Li Zhensheng

Print-Quality Photo

Both events are free and open to all. Li also will meet with students during his visit.

"We're excited to be able to help host this important and unique exhibit," said Margaret Key, associate director of the East Asian Studies Center. "When we're confronted with the statistics from the Cultural Revolution -- lives lost, people persecuted, educations missed -- or the famous images of the mass Red Guard rallies, it's easy to lose sight of the individuals. Li Zhensheng's exhibit puts the focus on the individual person -- cheering, crying, tormenting, being tormented, and this is a valuable perspective to bring to campus."

Claude Cookman, associate professor of journalism, said he is fascinated by Li's courageous work as an example of how photography and history can intersect. In his own historical research, he looks at the historical context and how it brings meaning to the images.

"China is a prominent player in today's world . . . IU students are going to have to understand China as they progress through their careers as this century unfolds," Cookman said. "These pictures and Li Zhensheng's lecture will give our students a snapshot from an important period in Chinese history that has been, in effect, swept under the rug.

"He also can serve as a model for student photographers," Cookman added. "We will see in his lecture -- and it's apparent in his book -- how one goes about documenting a huge cultural phenomenon."

His visit is sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center and the School of Journalism, with additional funding provided by the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, the Robert and Avis Burke Lecture Series, Department of the History of Art, the IU Art Museum and the Department of Communication and Culture.

Li was born into a poor family in 1940 in Dalian, Liaoning Province. His mother died when he was 2 years old and his father worked as a cook on a steamship, then as a farm laborer. As a teenager, Li won a coveted position to study cinematography at the Changchun Film Institute in Jilin, only to see the department converted to the more socially "useful" one of photojournalism.

After graduation, Li joined the party newspaper, Heilongjiang Daily, in Harbin in northeastern China as a photographer in 1964, just before the outbreak of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. To gain easier access to the chaotic events of the decade, he formed his own rebel group and even sewed his own armband. He would remain with the large provincial newspaper for 19 years. He moved to Beijing with his wife and two children in 1982 to undertake a 10-year teaching career at the journalism department of the International Political Science Institute.

His 2003 chronicle of the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, Red-Color News Soldier: A Chinese Photographer's Odyssey through the Cultural Revolution, co-authored with Pledge and Jacques Menasche, has been translated into six languages and received the Overseas Press Club of America's "Olivier Rebbot Award" for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad in Books.

Li continues to lecture extensively about his work, including in China. The first retrospective of his work in his native country took place in Hong Kong this summer. His collection of photographs has been represented worldwide by Contact Press Images since 1999.