New Internationalist

China

Issue 200

new internationalist
issue 200 - October 1989

CHINA

The NI is not only about words: we say just as
much about the world through the photographs we
select. What we have said about China has
been reflected throughout by the photos
of Sally and Richard Greenhill.

We have been travelling to China every three or four years since 1971. In the early (still Maoist) days the Western press was generally hostile to China's aspirations. Although we were wary of being shown set-up situations, the people we met impressed us as having deep convictions, lively minds, tireless enthusiasm, incorruptible moral standards.

All this has gone. In recent years there may have been more wealth and consumer goods around but people have seemed cynical, weary, amoral...

Then the most wonderful, exciting flower burst into bloom: the Democracy Movement! Unbelievably, the students were running Beijing. Suddenly' old standards of honesty and altruism reappeared: you heard stories everywhere about people refusing payment, giving, helping, volunteering...

It was the second Cultural Revolution but this time it came from the students and the workers and this time it was nonviolent, peaceful, gentle. And this time China's rulers knifed it in the back with shameless savagery - then set about hounding the survivors in a reign of terror. Many of the elements of this repression are not new: executions, controlled press, informers. On the other hand, the corruption and cynicism are new. So how far back does responsibility for the massacre go? To what extent do we have to re-evaluate everything we have seen and photographed over nearly two decades of involvement with China?

In 1971 the children were on the march, carrying the Cultural Revolution into the countryside. Here were young people striving for the noblest ideals. On the other hand, perhaps the disco-dancers of 1986 saw themselves the same way. [image, unknown] In 1971 the children were on the march, carrying the Cultural Revolution into the countryside. Here were young people striving for the noblest ideals. On the other hand, perhaps the disco-dancers of 1986 saw themselves the same way.

Primary schoolchildren from Cultural Revolution days seemed regimented - yet were encouraged to criticize their teachers. Are today's children as critical of their Walkmen? [image, unknown] Primary schoolchildren from Cultural Revolution days seemed regimented - yet were encouraged to criticize their teachers. Are today's children as critical of their Walkmen?

General Chen Chung Kwei and his men helping peasants hoe the fields in 1971. If he could have looked through time at his late 1980s counterpart, would he have been scornful of his sunglasses, his insignia of rank, his fat-cat complacent air? Or should we ask instead if the General really made a habit of such manual labour? [image, unknown] General Chen Chung Kwei and his men helping peasants hoe the fields in 1971. If he could have looked through time at his late 1980s counterpart, would he have been scornful of his sunglasses, his insignia of rank, his fat-cat complacent air? Or should we ask instead if the General really made a habit of such manual labour?

These two photos might seem like Then and Now exercises as above. But both come from the mid-1980s. Much of China goes on just the same, shrugging off time. For the Business Studies and Public Relations students on the right, though, life looks pretty rosy. [image, unknown] These two photos might seem like Then and Now exercises as above. But both come from the mid-1980s. Much of China goes on just the same, shrugging off time. For the Business Studies and Public Relations students, though, life looks pretty rosy.

The people love the army and the army loves the people. Ever since the Revolution, soldiers have been part of the Chinese people's sense,of themselves. The massacre in Tiananmen Square changed all that. [image, unknown] The people love the army and the army loves the people. Ever since the Revolution, soldiers have been part of the Chinese people's sense,of themselves.. The massacre in Tiananmen Square changed all that. [image, unknown] His own life nearly over, Deng Xiaoping feels able to announce '60 or 70 years of plain living' for his people. Modernization, bringing the seeds of freedom, was another victim of the massacre.

Ten days before the June massacre in Tiananmen Square, the atmosphere in Beijing was ecstatic. As foreign photographers, we were treated like heroes. Everyone was so HAPPY. Everyone supported the students. Everyone felt that history was being made. [image, unknown] A university in Beijing. Students and teachers huddle to analyse the situation. Nine days later the soldiers came, beating and killing.

All photos by Sally and Richard Greenhill.

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page


This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on China

Leave your comment