Scenics from 1979 China.
205-002 Great Wall 1979 The great wall was a conumdrum for the communist government. Was it a despicable monument to tyrants who ordered citizens to buld it, or was it a monument to China’s engineering genius and the hard work and dedication of the laboring class? The wall deteriorated during the last imperial dynasty because the ruling Manchus had come from beyond the wall. Then revolution, invasion, occupation, WWII and civil war did not allow any preservation work. Thus, this is what visitors saw of the wall in 1979; soon, however, the promise of riches through tourism brought about restoration.
#204-226 This house once belonged to a landowner of the class that was eliminated when the Communist Party came to power in 1949. It features the traditional architecture of a walled compound with the principles of fengshui observed: a hill behind the house, a broad outlook in front with sub-dwellings for servants and the owner’s house set to the rear. The tile roof signifies considerable prosperity. Many such houses were demolished in the 1990’s and later. The beautiful, detailed, fine wooden carvings that went into the decorations such as doors, windows and panels found their way into various antique markets. When filmmakers wanted to create period films, they faced increasing difficulties locating older houses like this.
#204-181a This boy is leading the oxen while his father handles the plow in the same way it has been done for centuries all over Asia. His father was considered very fortunate to have a son during the one child only era. There are no government pensions for farmers, so a son ensures the economic survival of the family in addition to carrying on the family’s name. Farming, by its very nature, is labor intensive. Under government and economic pressure, triple cropping has become common in the south and in turn subjects farmers to a relentless year round work routine.
#204-180 The paddy in the foreground has been plowed, flooded and ready for smoothing and planting. Behind it, a farmer is planting seedlings that have been grown in a richly fertilized special plot out of sight. On the left someone is bringing two more baskets of seedlings for the planter. All of this backbreaking stoop labor is conducted from dawn to dusk. In the south where the weather is warm, triple cropping means there is no respite during the winter months such as occurs in the north.
#204-168a China is a fiercely hierarchical country. We see this in human relationships as well as throughout society, including on the roads. Big trucks automatically have the right of way everywhere and at all times. Busses can bully automobiles, cyclists have no rights against autos, and cyclists show little concern for pedestrians. So also on the waterways, as we see here, with two rafters frantically trying to avoid a ferry. The rafters are floating logs down the Yangtze River to a lumber mill. Building materials were in high demand for housing at this time because for the first thirty years of the PRC all resources were devoted to heavy industry. Mao was obsessed with the idea of building up China’s military strength so that China would never again be put under the guns of the Western Powers. This policy resulted in too little housing built for China’s rapidly increasing population.
#204-037 These are the upper rapids of the Jinsha (Golden Sands) River in Yunnan Province before it expands to become the mighty Yangze River. The Yangtze, the Mekong and the Irawaddy Rivers all begin near each other in the melting glaciers of Tibet, but only the Yangtze bends eastward to flow into the Pacific Ocean near Shanghai, while the others irrigate Southeast Asia. The woman with the packhorse is a member of the Naxi minority. In this remote region there were two minorities with lifestyles very distinct from the national majority people, the Han: one group practiced slavery until the late 1950’s. When interviewed, members of this group who were slaves said their greatest goal in life was to themselves own slaves. The other group featured a matriarchal society whereby women headed the household. A daughter who took in a husband under terms that put the husband under the rule of the mother. Women were free to sleep with any number of men until finally selecting one for a lifelong mate. Should children be born of any liaison that child joined the mother’s household and there was no opprobrium attached to the matter.
#200-007 A long string of barges are towed around a bend in the canal town of Suzhou while two stinky barges convey night soil from the town to the outlying farms. This is part of the Grand Canal that began in 600 CE and which is now the world’s longest man-made waterway. Needing to cross many rivers of varying levels, the solution was to develop water locks many centuries before their appearance in Europe.
#189-015b This student was waiting for the light of dawn to begin her study for her college entrance exams. The exam included heavy doses of Marxism and Maoism. “We know it’s useless,” she said, “but we need it to pass the exams.” Many students in Hangzhou waited for daylight like this in parks all across China. They said their homes were too dark, too cramped and too noisy for study.
#189-012 The Communist Party policies during its first decades ruled out any overt expressions of romance and Party permission was required for marriage. After 1979 these policies were relaxed. This couple could now sit together on the shore of West Lake, but not too close. That freedom would not come until the 1990’s.
#189-002c West Lake is the centerpiece of what is regarded as China’s most beautiful city, Hangzhou. In 1979 almost the entire shoreline was blocked off from the public by government agencies that had eagerly seized shoreline properties for themselves as retreats for their highly placed employees. By the late 1990’s these villas were removed and most of the shoreline opened to the public as tourism had become a major business in China. The hills in the suburbs are covered with tea plantations. The Dragon Well, famous and well known, is in those hills. It is the namesake of the famous tea known as Dragon Well Tea.
#187-006a Sanya fishermen on this southern beach of Hainan Island enjoyed a quiet isolation until Chinese Tourism exploded beginning in the late 1990’s. Now the beaches are lined with swank tourist hotels. The island is promoted in Japan as China’s Hawaii. In 110 BC, the Han dynasty established a military garrison here and later abandoned it in 46 BC as too expensive to control. About that time Chinese from the mainland began migrating here. The island was considered such a primitive wilderness that it was considered by the throne as a suitable place for exiling court officials who had displeased the emperor. In 1945 the Chinese Nationalist government took full control and the island became one of the last places taken over by the communists.
#187-003 Sanya fishermen on the southern beach of Hainan Island enjoyed a quiet isolation until Chinese Tourism exploded beginning in the late 1990’s. Now the beaches are lined with swank tourist hotels. The island is promoted in Japan as China’s Hawaii.
#175-028 Fetching water from the village well was a daily task as most old villages do not have running water. The wide brimmed hats are more practical than umbrellas because they leave the hands free for work. Modernizing these old villages is nearly impossible because the narrow streets and congested housing prevents the excavation necessary for laying sewer pipes and a water supply system. In many places, instead of tearing apart the old town, a whole new town is built nearby.
#171-019 On the left is a walkway built for tourists across the face of the cliff. China’s spectacular Huangshan National Park has many such paths made by workers who were suspended by ropes to drill holes for the horizontal supports. Over the years many improvements have been made in the park to make ever more spectacular areas accessible as China modernizes and promotes its tourism.
#171-015 The famous “Sea of Clouds” in China’s Huangshan National Park can be seen in the early morning light. The park rises dramatically from the surrounding flat land of rice fields and is famous for paths suspended on laterals protruding from sheer cliffs. Two rudimentary hotels on the peaks accommodate overnighters; as does a village of tents. The park is just hours west of Shanghai by highway; and thirty minutes by air.
#159-013 In Xishuang Banna, near the border with Burma, the pattern of life has not changed much in the last 100 years except for the advent of rural busses and the introduction of electricity. The architecture and the carefully terraced hills are of Southeast Asian origins. Very often, the children care for these large animals.
#151-003 This is an aerial view of China’s far western border in the Uighur “Autonomous” Region. It is not truly autonomous at all, for China rules the region with an iron fist because the Uighurs sees China as an occupier. There is continual unrest in this region and the unrest predates the 1949 establishment of the PRC. The old Silk Road traversed this area and crossed these mountains into the Middle East and Europe. Before the Western “discovery” of the sea routes to China, this Central Asian route, once traveled by Marco Polo and was China’s “front door.”
#140-028 After 1949, when Mao took control of China, property was confiscated from landowners, divided up among the farmers and communes were formed. During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, schools were closed and students were forced to work on the communes along with the farmers. A commune is a collective made up of military-like units of 30,000 people and sub-divided into Work Brigades down to Work Teams. These collectives, highly unpopular and less productive than small farms, were abandoned in the 1980’s. It was one of Mao’s great failures. Many of my wife’s relatives were forced to work on the communes. Brothers and sisters were intentionally separated from each other and assigned to different communes located hundreds of miles away. Not knowing when they would see their homes again, many workers died from a combination of depression and poor medical care. Most simply accepted their fate and adjusted to their conditions. Others were made stronger in character in their will to survive. In the photo is a rotary winnowing machine. The Chinese invented it in the second century BCE, 1,800 years before it appeared in Europe.
#133-018 Why such massive sculptures? Same reason the colossal cathedrals in Europe were built: to be awesome and enduring. Imperial patronage for Buddhism waxed and waned with wooden monasteries subject to intentional destruction, usually by fire. These sculptures were built to last. Originally they had wooden protective shelters but they deteriorated or burned. Now the art is subject to weathering and air pollution. Over the years, American and European collectors looted many but most remain intact and are being restored by the PRC government.
#130-028 Converting hills into Yanglia Gou farmlands requires carrying water uphill by hand in this arid region of northwest China. Desperate for farmland, the Chinese here have been able to make this area productive.
#130-013a Immense tree-planting campaigns have not successfully prevented desertification in China’s west. Desertification has destroyed entire villages and swallows up over 1,000 miles annually. The expansion of the Gobi desert is one of the fastest on earth and causing major problems for China.
#124-039a Two boys hitch a mid-summer cooling ride in the world’s longest manmade waterway. Started in the 6th century CE, the Grand Canal was built to carry goods and grain from the fertile watery south to the semi-arid north. Needing to cross many rivers of varying levels, it led to the invention of nautical locks centuries ahead of Europe.
#123-031 On Erhai Lake in Yunnan Province, families depend on boats for both home and livelihood. These boats are well over 100 years old dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
#120-179 The Sacred Way leading to the Ming Tombs outside Beijing was found deserted except for the caretakers. That changed after China opened up to tourists in the following years. Now iron railings guard everything and roads are wider to accommodate scores of tour buses.
#120-173a West Lake in Hangzhou is China’s favorite city. The lakeshore was made off-limits to the public and taken over by important officials for their villas. Before that, the villas were owned by the wealthy and also off-limits. Now most of the lakeshore is accessible to the public. A 1950’s era underground command center for the central government is a tourist attraction here including the bed General Lin Biao slept on.
#115-002 This bamboo raft is carrying cargo down the Xiang River in Hunan Province. A scientific study in England proved that oar sweeps like these are much more energy efficient than rowing oars. It was China’s use of bamboo rafts that led China to become the inventor of watertight compartments for ocean going vessels. Every ship that sails the oceans today is based on 2nd century CE Chinese maritime architecture that was brought to Europe by Sir Samuel Bentham in the late 1700’s. Marco Polo described them 1295 but no one paid attention.
#086-030 In the 5th century BCE, North China was firmly Buddhist. Datong was famous as far south as Ceylon. Over the years, European and American archaeologist looted grottoes here and in Longmen but much remains. Weather and air pollution are serious concerns since the sculptures long ago lost their protective wooden structures to fires. Today, with fast trains and a modern highway, Yungang, near Datong, Shanxi Province, is now just hours west of Beijing.
#085-002a The caravans on the old Silk Road traversed these mountains that separate Central Asia from Europe. It is just north of Kashgar, the ancient trading oasis where China-bound travelers exchanged horses for camels and Europe-bound, the opposite. The old bazaar that was still there in 1979 has been razed and modernized. The camels are gone and the animal trading has been booted out of town.
#049-022 This is the main highway between Sichauan’s and Sngpan in Gansu Province. In 1980, this route was not for the faint-hearted. This one lane road had two-way traffic and no guardrails. Emergency help was hours away. These beautiful high-grasslands once belonged to Tibet.
#049-018 This is a typical country ferry scene on the Li River in Guilin. The area was peacefully quiet and undisturbed in 1979. Modern bridges have now displaced many of these centuries old man-powered ferry systems. Today, the karst formations are a popular tourist attraction.
#049-016 New bridges with beautiful arches have replaced country ferries such as this on the Li River near Guilin. The lush bamboo grove on the left is one of 40 different specie of bamboo in China.
#049-015 Water buffalo are wonderfully patient, obedient and hard working. These animals are well suited to the small plot farms of China’s south. Today, this Guilin landscape attracts many tourists who marvel at the karst limestone formations.
#049-007 A West Lake scene that has been viewed by the various dynasties over the past three thousand years.
#043-052a China’s unrelenting demand for food makes any arable land valuable for agriculture. For thousands of years, throughout the mountainous regions, hundreds of valleys have been laboriously worked over to make them suitable for planting. These small-plot farms are typical of the Chinese countryside and have survived dynasties, wars, oppression including the hated and now-abandoned commune system instituted by Mao to convert the country to a more pure form of communism.
#043-011 China’s one child policy was difficult to enforce in the countryside. Families with two daughters but no son are considered unfortunate. That means there is no male to carry on the family line. Worse, from the traditional Chinese point of view, daughters are an economic loss because they marry off to another family after the expense of raising them. Subsequently, government propaganda urged farmers to cherish their daughters.
#038-016 The Ming and Qing imperial palace in Beijing is stoutly walled from the outside. Within its precincts, the Chinese strict sense of hierarchy demanded that interior walls separate different levels of officials and palace relatives. This resulted in a wall system of manifold complexities: of walls within walls. The Communist Party in China rules from behind the same walls as the emperors of the past in a compound adjacent to the ancient palace.
#036-005 From this western oasis on the edge of Dunhuangthe, the Silk Road split into the northern and the southern routes to skirt the dreaded Taklamakan Desert to the west. Arriving caravan people gave thanks for their safe passage or prayed for the same if outbound, hence the oasis became an established religious center. Caves here feature magnificent 7th century art preserved by the desert’s dry atmosphere.
#027-057a An unrestored old palace like this is hard to find today. Prosperity and the five-day workweek introduced two decades later opened the floodgates for the local population as well as foreigners to enjoy tourism. Today, this site is packed with locals who at last can see where the emperors lived. Observe the family at the left squatting down for a photograph. That was a 1979 phenomenon, Until that time, cameras were regarded as evidence of bourgeois decadence and confiscated by authorities. Rampaging Red Guards destroyed even family photographs. I visited an elderly couple and thinking I could commiserate with them, said, “I suppose the Red Guards destroyed all your family photos.” “Oh no!” they said brightly. “We burned them before they got here.”
#026-225 Boatwoman preparing for customers to enjoy a cool evening ride in Kunming’s Cuihu Park. It was only after Mao’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the radicals who dominated government policy that people could begin to relax and enjoy themselves. It was a pleasure to see a nation finally at peace with itself. Class warfare at last ended.
#026-186 China’s famous Huangshan national park is a thirty-minute flight from Shanghai. In 1979, you had no choice but to climb the stairs to reach the pinnacles. Later, a cable car was installed. Visitors were few because of the standard six-day workweek in place. Twenty years later the government experimented with a five-day workweek every other week. That gave immediate rise to a booming tourist industry. Within a year, a five-day workweek became standard. The cable car, rising wages and a full weekend raised park visitor numbers exponentially.
#026-109 The mighty Yangtze River originates at a Tibetan glacier then flows through Yunnan Province through deep ravines where it is called the Golden Sands River. Some mountains here were not summited until the 1980’s.
#023-013 This remote mountaintop outpost is literally the end of the road. It has a several shops to serve the scattered farms that scratch out a living in the few places where there is arable land. China, about the same landmass as the United States, has only a small fraction of arable land that the U.S. has. This little outpost hamlet is the starting point for a mule journey up the mountains out of sight to the right. At the top of a mountain is small Daoist monastery just big enough for two or three monks perched on a cliffside overlook. Such sites, chosen by the monks for their remoteness, were not spared the onslaught of the communist political movements that swept over the country from 1959 to 1979. At the time of my visit, one monk led a lonely existence trying to rehabilitate the monastery. The persistence of ancient Daoism after all that China has endured is truly remarkable.
#015-215 This is Shaping in Yunnan Province, an area where many people of the Bai minority dwell. People are streaming to the village market that is just an open space on the edge of town. Several villages and towns in a district are linked in a marketing network so that on alternating days of the month, a different village will host the market. Market days in a village are always very festive.
#015-140 Aba in Sichuan Province was part of Tibet until it was appropriated by the PRC after 1949. This is highland pastureland populated by Tibetans who shepherd large herds of yak. Yaks are protein sources and pack animals. They transport all the possessions of the nomadic families as they shift with the seasons from one pasture to another. The area suffers from overgrazing. The men, women and children are all marvelous equestrians.
#015-087 Rural villages are linked in a marketing network such that market day rotates from one town to another on different days of the month. Here, people are streaming in to the village of Shaping in Yunnan Province to buy or to sell. The market is held on any large open dirt space on the edge of town.
#001-109 For the first thirty years of the PRC, infrastructure investment did not extend to the deep countryside. Bridges were often in dangerous disrepair until after 1979.
#4051-D-633 Nanking East Road, Shanghai, 1979.Shanghai’s Nanking East Road is seen here in 1979 with so few cars that pedestrians can walk in the street with impunity. At this time there were no private cars in all of China. With the prosperity brought by the opening of the economy to a private sector and official permission for capitalism, though called “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” soon so many cars flooded this street that it was chocked to a standstill. This street subsequently became a pedestrian mall and the black and white garb soon gave way to stylish clothing and high heels. Capitalism and consumerism crowded out communism.
#4051-D-612 The Huangpu River as it flows past Shanghai. On the left is Pudong, “River east,” site of an entirely new Shanghai. It now features the tallest buildings in the world, an international airport, several modernistic bridges and underwater tubes connecting it to old Shanghai, known as Puxi, “River West,” out of sight to the right of this photo.This 1979 photo shows two old river steamers on the opposite banks and a convoy of cargo barges. Historically, the waterways were vital transportation for passengers and cargo. The rivers in China run from west to east. For north and south traffic, China built the longest canal in the world; a canal that crossed rivers by means of nautical locks invented by the Chinese.
#4051-D-611 View from the old Cathay Hotel in 1979, now re-named the Peace Hotel. Western trading companies built the buildings along the Bund. Their magnificence was intended to impress on the Chinese the power of the West. Chinese banks and government institutions now occupy them. The Huangpu River connects Shanghai to the mouth of the Yangtze River and the sea and was the center of international trade in the 1930’s. In recent years the river has seen vast industrial growth along its banks and once again international trade makes the river a vital artery for economic activity. The building in the right foreground is the old Customs House.
#4051-D-600 This is the Dongbianmen in Beijing, one of the few remaining towers of the old city wall. This photo was taken after the wall was torn down on Mao’s orders but before the damaged tower was completely rebuilt in the 1990’s when it became an art gallery.