Urban Life in China.
205-010 The Sanitation Man 1979 Infrastructure for waste removal was a decade away. A farmer would seek a franchise on cleaning the toilets of a neighborhood. The waste material was removed to the countryside where it was valued as fertilizer. People learned to evade walking close to carts like this.
#4051-D-557 The city of Shanghai is famous for sidewalk breakfasts. This shop sells the ever-popular deep fried crullers called youtiao. These greasy delicacies can be either eaten plain as finger food or cut up into bowls of hot soybean soup. Because they are slippery, the term youtiao is applied humorously to anyone who can’t be pinned down to take a stand on anything. The box on the counter is the cash register.
205-006 Young Lovers The Communist Party of China in its earlier years promoted liberal attitudes in the matter of romance. The first law of the Party when the new government was established in 1949was a marriage law that dictated no one could intervere in a citizen’s selection of a marriage mate. Soon this changed, howeer, and one had to apply to the party for permission to marry and class background became an all-important consideration. It was similar to old China when the connecting of two families by marriage was regarded as too important to be left to young people to decide, least of all on the bases of emotions; elders selected mates ad it often was a case of two people who had never met.
205-004 Don Gibbs Followed by Children Youngsters stalked foreigners just for the joy of seeing something strange; teen-agers and young adults gathered wherever they thought foreigners might appear, usually in city parks, and their purpose was to practice English and ask questions about the world outside China.
#204-025 Mao created the slogan, “women hold up half the sky”—a slogan meant to impress on a society that historically saw women as less valuable than men that women were every bit as valuable and essential as men. Even so, in general, while women were, indeed, “liberated” to hold paying jobs, they continued to bear most of the child rearing, most of the shopping and cooking. There was much strife over the issue, during the commune period that was just ending when I took this photo, of women doing equal work but earning fewer work points than men. For those who worked within the state system there would be a pension and housing after retirement, but for those outside, such as this woman, there would be a need to work until they can’t work any more and then to depend on their own savings an on their children. Thus, the need to have children was very strong, and more children meant more security.
205-003 Children Seeing Their First Foreigner This was the scene in Guiyang, a city not officially open to foreigners in 1979. We had a transit pass to make railroad connections. During the layover we were sealed off in a room to ourselves until the trip across town from the police station to the railtoad station. Our car was blocked at every intersection, but crowds were friendly in their curiosity.
#204-305 For a few cents per hour, picture books can be borrowed but read on-site only under watchful eyes of the proprietor. Similar to our comic books in style, the contents were of violence and sex.
#204-301 Bookstalls could always be found on downtown streets. Near a university campus, one can find used textbooks at a good price. Elsewhere, new and the latest editions could be had including pirated versions.
#204-300 Bookstalls like this loaned books to read on-site for just a few pennies. They specialized in violence and sex with crude illustrations and very little text. One might find all ages reading avidly.
#204-296 These ubiquitous bookstalls did not sell books. They loaned them for a small fee. They specialized in unrestricted content: such as gory spectacles and far out lurid contents. Their books were printed on cheap paper, wildly illustrated and had very little text. One had to read them on-site with the minder carefully watching.
#204-265 This structure is in a small town in North China. It shows several types of building materials indicating the house was built at different times and under different economic conditions. The unpainted wood appears to be quite ancient. The under structure of kiln-baked brick was done when money was available, but only enough for that one section. Further down the walls are of sunbaked adobe. In 1979 most of the housing in China was badly rundown. Homes were not privately owned so there was no incentive to improve or even maintain structures.
#204-216 An impromptu street gathering and a hot sale blocking the street in Qujing was not a problem in 1987. Ten years later it would be different as China began importing and producing automobiles at such a rate that streets became clogged with traffic.
#204-208 In 1979, the manufacturing of household goods was not yet underway. China was still emerging from their exclusive emphasis on heavy industry of the Maoist era. Agriculture was forced to produce exports for foreign exchange that in turn financed heavy industry that supported their military. Thus, handmade botanical based merchandise such as hats and baskets dominated the market place.
#204-206 Sidewalk shops such as this simple fabric store quickly sprouted up everywhere after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Chinese people have no problems with free enterprise. In the 1960’s, a Harvard professor said, “No one knows what shape Chinese society will take once they take the bands off.” He also said, “Scratch any Chinese and you find a businessman.” In 1978, free enterprise did not exist. By the late 1980’s, there were many privately owned Chinese companies. Many businessmen became millionaires by the turn of the century. First came the sidewalk vendors, the roving knife sharpeners, soft drink stands and the hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Then small bricks and mortar businesses appeared followed by factories and big stores within the period of two decades. This economic frenzy was fueled by a long history of oppression, war, and government economic policies resulting in the scarcity of goods for the individual. While sailing down the Yangtze in 1979, I met a passenger who was really excited because he had heard he’d be able to buy a pair of leather shoes in the next port, which was Nanjing. Nothing of the kind available for the next thousand miles upstream from Nanking, he said.
#204-202 “Snake oil” salesmen were common throughout small villages as well as large cities. China still has a long way to go in such matters as standards for medical and pharmaceutical products. These hawkers also served as a form of entertainment making people laugh and listen avidly. In the rural villages people tend to take them seriously. The police often run them along, especially when they block traffic or attract too large a crowd.
#204-199 Silk embroidery is created by first drawing the design outline. Silk production dates from over 3000 years BCE and is just one of many Chinese contributions to world civilization. Readers of The Genius of China by George Temple will be astonished by what they find there.
#204-010 Bulletin boards like this publicize crime and punishment, the achievements of the government and major national events. They tend not to be as boring as the daily newspapers.
#204-007 For over 2,500 years, pony carts have been used in China for transportation of goods. This particular old cart has been “modernized” with inflatable rubber tires. The clay pots have been manufactured in the countryside and are destined for commercial establishments such as restaurants or hotels in the city. The small openings and the size of the jars indicate they are used to store liquids such as soy sauce or cooking oils.
#204-001 For a small fee, picture books with written dialogue may be borrowed on-site at this sidewalk library in Shanghai. These libraries are very popular in the cities throughout China.
#202-013 In spite of the one-child policy, there was a strong promotion made by the ruling Party to respect female babies. Government financed billboards urging the population to cherish girls were put on prominent display all over the country in the 1980’s.
#200-025 Numerous canals in the city of Suzhou are constantly busy with in and outbound traffic from the city center. Note the distinctive type of head covering Suzhou women are famous for. 1981, Suzhou City was listed by the State Council as one of the four cities of historical and cultural heritage protection. Since then, the city developed into one of the most prosperous one in China.
#200-010 These barges are maneuvering in a busy section of the Suzhou canal. Suzhou is a picturesque city with a rich history going back 2,500 years. When the Grand Canal was completed in about 600 AD, Suzhou became an important trade route for silk and other important products along the waterways. The area is now heavily industrialized. Trucks and modern highways have replaced many of these barges seen in 1979.
#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.
#189-012 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.
#152-001 After 1979, farmers were allowed to sell their surplus directly to the public. Street vendors would normally be members of the farmers’ family. Farmers living close to urban centers fared much better than farmers located in remote regions because of the opportunities for direct selling and cash income. There were no vendor rules. You could plunk your stuff down just about anywhere as long as you were not interfering with anything. That was your space. Later on, city governments designated specific areas for farmers and gradually these areas were improved. Starting as dirt lots, they were eventually paved. Later, a roof was added, plumbing installed and finally, toilets were available. But as always in China, the further out from the cities you went, the less these improvements were seen. Vendors like these selling pineapple, grapes and guavas have disappeared from the major cities now and can only be found in the smaller provincial towns and rural villages.
#153-029 This is a typical side street in an old residential district of the Shanghai metropolis. No cars, no sidewalks, thick cotton bedding aired on the street. In fact, the street is the neighborhood’s “front yard.”
#153-032 Lijiang is mainly populated by the Naxi minority with a history of over 1,000 years. This marvelously well-preserved ancient town is famous for the clean and clear water channels that stream through every neighborhood. It served as an important trade center during the Old Tea Horse Caravan Trail days. The mud brick and timber construction was learned from Nanjing traders centuries ago and local carpenters still use this building technique working without blueprints. Traveling from Kunming to Lijiang in 1979 took two twelve-hour days of hard driving over unpaved roads carrying my own gas in jerry cans. “That’s nothing,” a WWII veteran said. “When I came out before the war it was a two-week mule ride.” Today there is a railroad line, a fast highway and an airport as Lijiang has developed into a popular tourist destination.
#153-033 It is said that as far back as 1000 CE the Chinese were treating toothaches with arsenic and filling tooth cavities with silver amalgam, and that several methods of treating dental problems were introduced ahead of Western countries. However, proper dental hygiene was not in conspicuous practice in any of the years of my travel in China, and modern dental equipment and methods were only available in larger urban centers. The advertising banner for this village dental clinic reads: “In all the world, first class.” “Be able to eat your fill and look good too.” “Expert methods, quick, no pain.”
#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.
#175-034 These people carry their heavy loads long distances to reach the market in the mountain town of Lijiang, home to the Naxi minority. It may be a 2-3 day journey to return to their mountain villages. In 1987, it took me two twelve-hour days of hard driving on bumpy dirt roads to get to Lijiang. Deeply remote, there were no hotels and only one government hostel. However, its very isolation preserved its fabulously interesting culture and spectacular scenic vistas. During WWII, the Flying Tigers had a landing field here. Today, it is a major tourist attraction.
#175-035 The mountain town of Lijiang, a Naxi minority village in Yunnan Province, was an important trading center during the Ancient Tea Horse Road period over 800 years ago. The blending of several cultures contributes to the architecture of the old town that has been well preserved. The Naxi culture has a music, writing and religious style much different than the majority of Chinese. In the early 1980s, it took me two days of hard driving over bumpy roads to reach it, but the degree to which it was preserved made it well worthwhile. It is now a major tourist attraction.
#175-037 This mountain town of Lijiang in Yunnan Province is one of the most interesting places in all China. Previously remote and reachable only by two days of hard driving over jarring roads, it now has a highway that has made it a popular tourist destination. Home of the Naxi people with their own language and writing system, it is distinctive not only for its culture and scenic beauty, but also for its system of water channels that run down every street, all of them flowing with clear mountain spring water.
#180-012a Crowds on Shanghai side streets are still common. The overhead banner announces an exhibition of products from countryside villages. Farmers at this time have been permitted to sell their excess products to the public. During the Cultural Revolution, farm products were property of the state.
#181-016 This is a typical residential neighborhood in Shanghai where small shops are crowded together; a convenience that served well the local population. In the 1980’s and ’90’s, such neighborhoods were demolished in order to make way for luxury high rise condominiums, shopping malls and chain hotels. Residents were removed to compounds far from the city center where often, there were no stores at all.
#183-005 Couplets commonly adorn the sides of every doorway. This one says, “Science opens the door to wealth and abundance.” The axe-wielding door god for this year was just pasted over the door god of the previous year.
#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.
#149-018 This chicken cage is made of American aircraft runway materials that were airlifted into China over the Himalayan Mountains from India. The flights were referred to as “Flying the Hump.” The perforated metal strips were laid on top of the soft earth of a rice paddy to make an instant airfield for fighter planes of the Flying Tigers to defend China’s cities from Japanese bombers. In chatting with the man it was clear that he remembered the war, the airfields and the warplanes. His home features the customary rhymed couplet on either side of the entrance with protective door gods pasted on the door itself. These door gods and couplets are always renewed at New Year’s time.
#149-009 China gained American jeeps in two ways: some were via American aid to the Nationalists who left them behind in 1949 when they retreated to Taiwan and others were captured in the 1950-53 Korean War. Later, the PRC manufactured jeeps of their own design. This jeep, if in America today, would be a valuable collector’s item.
#149-008 China’s command economy never fulfilled the actual needs of its citizens until the private sector was permitted to operate as a market economy. China’s current swift rise as an economic power stems from this shift. Here, in 1979, we see the overproduction of tractors and the need for more trucks solved at the local level by attaching a trailer to a tractor for use on city streets.
#144-047 This is the Panjia yuan flea market in southeast Beijing where authentic antiques can be found with fakes mixed amongst them. Museum curators are known to prowl the aisles either to add to their private collections or to spot something precious that should be in a museum. Mao figurines are set out side-by-side with three thousand year old pots from Gansu province. On any Saturday or Sunday, regardless of weather, you would find over five thousand intent buyers in this market known by the locals as the Ghost Market. The nickname the Ghost Market originated from the custom of sellers bringing valuable items to sell in the pre-dawn darkness before the police began their patrols. In pitch-black darkness, it was ghostly to see figures moving here and there with flashlights in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other doing their best to differentiate the fakes from the real. In the Imperial period, excavating a tomb was punishable by death without trial. In modern times, a flourishing market in China and abroad for excavated artifacts, including porcelain and bronze, has brought tomb robbers considerable wealth.
#142-006 The use of handcarts is closely tied with the invention of the wheel. Carts from Central Asia were introduced to China around 1200BC and are still being used today. Visitors to China are often astonished to witness the heavy loads being moved by a single person. For a small businessperson, it is much cheaper to move products by handcarts given the availability of low cost labor.
#142-003a This farmer is making a delivery to downtown Beijing in 1979. He is wearing flimsy PLA type tennis shoes common to everyone and typical farm wear. His split bamboo pole is pound for pound, stronger than steel and enables him to carry his heavy load. The main vehicle traffic at this time is trucks and bicycles. Beijing streets, once quiet and empty with clean air, no longer exist.
#133-014 Datong in Shanxi province was a grimy coal-mining town in north China with coal dust everywhere. From the third to sixth century CE, it was a famous center for Buddhism and well known as far south as Ceylon. It was unpleasant to be there but the colossal Yungang statuary is there and well worth the effort to see it.
#132-051a Chatting with folks on a country ferryboat I happened to say, “These boys,” gesturing to the lads scampering about, cutting up and excited to be on an excursion, “are so wonderful I’d love to take them home with me to America. Instead, I’ll just take their picture home with me.” The boys heard that and immediately lined themselves up to be photographed. The whole boat became friendly after that.
#132-046 Chinese tradition value boys over girls. Boys are expected to carry on the family name and care for his parents in their old age. A boy is also looked upon as future economic support for his family and has priority for the family’s resources, especially in his education.
#132-034a Two boys with an older daughter to help look after them is a Chinese parent’s dream. This stroller is made of bamboo, which is one of China’s most enduring resources. The planting and use of bamboo goes back to 7,000 years ago and played an important role in ancient China. The usages of this renewable resource included food, utensils, clothing, housing, transportation, music instruments and even weapons. The largest planted area for bamboo is in the south Yangtze River region with over 400 known species. Pound for pound, bamboo is as strong as steel.
#132-033 Before the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, the nation held the Peoples’ Liberation Army in high esteem. Acceptance into the PLA for a country boy was a ticket out of farm drudgery and a chance to be admired and travel far from the village. The PLA was so admired that it was popular to dress children in PLA uniforms. The father is not a soldier. If he were, then his cap would be adorned with a red star.
#132-020a In every region of China one sees a wide variety of devices, usually of cloth, invented by women for carrying their infant children. Throughout Chinese history women in all but the wealthiest of homes were charged with feeding the family, running the household and often working in the fields, too. Meanwhile, they still had the responsibility for caring for the children, hence the need for a sling to keep a child close at hand while performing these chores. From the imperial periods to the beginning of the twentieth century, her relationship with her family was in accord with the teachings of Confucius. Family members were subordinate to the eldest male. Because daughters would marry into another family, they were considered a “small happiness.” After her husband died, a mother would be subordinate to her son.
#132-013 The one-child policy began in 1979 by which time this happy man already had two sons and a daughter. The policy began phasing out in 2015. There were many campaigns telling people by loudspeaker, posters and TV to “cherish your daughter” and saying that daughters are more filial than sons.
#132-010 Girls enjoying ice cream in Beijing. The one child policy was introduced in 1980. This policy was the result of an exploding population growth, shortage of food and a Cultural Revolution lacking in intellectual capacity. The government decided to ration children in the same fashion as coal and grain. For over 1000 years, the Chinese culture demanded that a male heir carry on the family’s name in addition to caring for his parents in their old age. From the very outset of this new law, girls were a surplus. This resulted in infanticide and abandonment of newborn girls. Many were adopted by the west. Women giving birth to a second child were severely fined or forced to have an abortion. Women were abused for their failure to produce a boy. Girls were prevented from marrying until they were 20 and too old by tradition to marry after 25. But the law required that no mother should give birth before 24. Many were subjected to regular pregnancy tests, some about twice a month and were forbidden to travel without a certificate stating they were not pregnant.
#132-004 China was dreadfully shabby in 1979 but it was not hard to find beauty. Outside the front door of this meagerly furnished home are food scraps in the basket put out for the pig farmer to collect. In those days, very little went to waste in China. Chinese homes in this era were sparsely furnished due to the past 150 years of strife and poverty. From 1839 to 1979, China endured chaos and oppression. In the 1990’s there was a big boom in the manufacturing and sales of household furniture and kitchen appliances. There was nothing of that kind made for the common people in China during those awful years because of the total emphasis on investment in heavy industry.
T#130-075 These school children in Yanglia Gou have been allowed to come out of their cave classroom for the special treat of seeing foreigners, namely the several university students who accompanied me to this village. Like the villagers, we slept in caves rented from villagers. The caves on the upper right are abandoned. Caves last only about a decade or so. However, they are cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The bed is a stone platform across the rear of the cave and the entire family sleeps on that platform. There is a fireplace under it and a flume to carry away smoke.
#130-074 In this northwest village of Yanglia Gou, people lived in caves. Children went to school in a cave that was dark because the lone light bulb was not turned on to save on the electric bill. My university students contributed their own money to the village chief to pay the electric bill for a year. Later in the day I saw the chief gambling with wads of bills.
#130-058 Small villages would build a theater so that travelling troupes could come and stay for a few days or a week to perform village operas. Here, musicians are preparing the audience for a blind performer who would chant a ribald story that drove the village women away out of modesty.
#130-054a In areas of China that modernization has passed by, one can still find villages where itinerant musicians and storytellers perform for donations. This blind musician is entertaining in the Shaanxi hamlet of Yangjiagou.
#130-049 In a mountain hamlet as remote as you could imagine, I found this remarkably nice school. The daughter of a villager, who had left, accumulated wealth in Hong Kong. She brought back a sum equal to $30,000.00 to the village to build the school. Unfortunately, due to government neglect, the school is in danger from erosion in the surrounding areas. When Mao was on the run, this village harbored him. But once he left, he never gave anything to the village. Except for the school, whatever infrastructure I saw, such as a bridge or stones lining the creek, had been built by the Qing Dynasty over 100 years ago and not by the PRC.
#129-010a I rode all over China on passenger trains pulled by steam locomotives like this one. I enjoyed cracking jokes with the crew when we stopped for coal and water. Note the spiffy whitewalls. The rims were painted bright red. A plaque with Mao’s portrait was on the front of the boiler on some engines, a big red star on others. The engineer said their fastest permitted speed was 36 mpg. Most Chinese steam engines were manufactured in Datong, Shanzi, China up to 1988 when they switched to diesel engines for their main railroad lines. China continued using steam engines for their industrial lines and also for the Jitong Railway in Mongolia where coal was cheap and plentiful. China officially ended their use of steam engines on their national rail network in 2002 but a few units remained in use on minor lines. The Jitong Railway had diesel engines by 2005 but some steam engines remained in use on industrial lines until 2010. Today, China’s trains are more modern, efficient and faster than anything we have in America.
#124-042a These are freight barges moored beside a loading crane in a tributary in Suzhou. All along the Grand Canal there are tributaries that operate similar to mainline railroads that have spur tracks that service warehouses, factories and train stations. In most places, the banks are quite low so loading and unloading by hand over gangplanks is feasible. But here the banks are so high that a crane is needed. The canals were designed to avoid silting and were well maintained during the historical period. But in the era starting with the Opium Wars of the first half of the 1800’s, then the Taiping Rebellion, the overthrow of the dynasty, the warlord period, the Japanese invasion, the civil war and the Cultural Revolution, the canal maintenance was neglected. Water stagnated and commercial use fell away. The PRC has restored the canals and now the Grand Canal is heavily trafficked for business and tourism.
#124-041 The 2700 miles of the Grand Canal system require constant maintenance. This is muck dredged from a backwater area. It will be applied to farmland to offset erosion.
#124-040b These boats are hauling human waste collected from the honey buckets in the city. They will be used for fertilizer for farms in the outskirts of Suzhou after fermenting in pits.
#124-037 The construction boom that began in the 1980’s required construction materials to be brought into town by canal boats from the quarries and kilns in the countryside. The loads they carried were staggering. The materials were then were off-loaded by hand.
#124-028 In ancient times, the canal system in Suzhou was ingeniously engineered to create a constant flow of water swift enough to cleanse it and prevent silting. Over 150 years of rebellion, invasion, anarchy and revolution ruined the system. The PRC reversed the decay by dredging and repairs so that today it functions as an important transportation artery as well as an attraction for tourists. This is what it looked like in 1979.
#124-022 The Maple Bridge of Suzhou was made famous during the Tang Dynasty when poet Zhang Ji (766-830 CE) wrote about it after his boat anchored there for the night. Travel in old China was mainly by boat, especially in the south, which is crisscrossed by miles of waterways.
#124-020 There are two things that identify a person’s locality in China. One is dialect and the other is headwear. This woman is of Suzhou. The bamboo carrying pole she has is split in half to give it flexibility. Pound for pound, bamboo is stronger than steel. It is considered to be a symbol of good fortune because of its quick growth and a symbol of longevity because of its long life span. One of the most important uses of bamboo in history is its part in the invention of paper. Most ancient Chinese instruments were made from bamboo including the flute. Other products made from this plant are boats and rafts, homes, chopping boards, chopsticks, cooking utensils, fishing rods and medicine.
#124-014 These motorized boats are used to transport freight on the Grand Canal. These are moored in a tributary canal in Suzhou. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BC. It has allowed for faster trading and has improved China’s economy. The southern portion remains in heavy use to the present day. From the Tang to Qing dynasties, the Grand Canal served as the main artery between northern and southern China and was essential for the transport of grain to Beijing. Although it was mainly used for shipping grain, it also transported other commodities and the corridor along the canal developed into an important economic belt. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the canal has been used to transport vast amounts of bulk goods such as bricks, gravel, sand, diesel and coal.
#124-006 This 1979 photo shows the back door of Suzhou houses that open on to a tributary of the Grand Canal. The head of the World Bank in China told me in 2000 that 70% of the water in China had become unusable for any purpose due to pollution of one kind or another.
#123-003a In 1980, China introduced the one child policy aimed at the Han majority population in fear of food shortages. Couples who abided by this policy were awarded a “Certificate of Honor for Single Child Parents.” A violation of the one-child policy resulted in punishments that could last a lifetime. As most jobs and housing were government related, housing for the family would be denied and job promotions ruled out. In some areas, relatives were held as hostages until the woman consented to sterilization. When the private sector of the economy grew, parents who violated the one child policy would be heavily fined and charged exorbitant school fees for their child. Such controls had less effect on farmers because they built their own houses and did not have state jobs. Job promotion or denial was not an issue. In addition, farmers often didn’t want their children, especially a girl, to attend school anyway. The punishments for farmers were different. Their houses might be bulldozed or televisions and furniture confiscated depending on the local authorities. In the mid 1980s, the laws were relaxed a little allowing for families in rural areas to have a second child. The one child policy ended in 2015.
#122-049 Announcements in rural villages were generally made over a loud speaker system that blanketed the entire country. In small towns that was augmented by posted announcements. These ranged from the lists of those who passed the examinations into high school and into college, to criminal convictions, tax announcements and new laws and regulations of all kinds.
#122-044a Pigs are particularly valued in China since before the beginning of the earliest dynasties. They are self-sufficient and allowed to be turned loose to forage on their own. One needs to be prepared to encounter these animal anywhere such as this cyclist steering well clear of this particularly large pig. Contrary to expectations, I found pigs in China, on the streets and farms, to be surprisingly clean.
#122-033 These exquisite Chinese wool carpets are being taken to a merchant. Many will end up in fashionable carpet stores in America and Europe. They are made with natural dyes using centuries old weaving methods.
#122-031a Rustic skills our great grandparents possessed in early America were still very much alive in the countryside in 1979. The White Russians introduced knitting to China during the 1920s after their defeat in their civil war. Many units that had retreated ended up in Eastern China. The art of knitting was originally passed on to the Chinese caravan men who transported the Russian internees who had a ready supply of camel hair that they used for knitting when they ran out of yarn.
#122-027 My Chinese wife remembers from her childhood seeing a knife sharpener coming through their neighborhood. Such free enterprise was outlawed for nearly thirty years until new economic policies followed after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976.
#122-024a When at last a measure of free enterprise was permitted, people were free to sell their farm excess produce or craft items. This lady found a way to make a tiny bit of cash by selling a glass of tea from her makeshift portable stand. It seems simple enough, but this new freedom opened the door to major developments. It was the first economic crack in the Chinese ideological wall.
#122-012a People really watched their pennies and never failed to count their change. This man is intensely scrutinizing the seller’s hand scales. Even the most common, everyday purchases such as these scallions required a stint of energetic haggling from both sides.
#122-006 The man in sitting in the doorway with the red armband is what foreigners dub “the granny police.” They are designated neighborhood watchmen (or watchwomen) observing everything happening on their street. When I visited a friend, a granny immediately showed up at the door asking me to state my name, my purpose and where I lived. I didn’t see as much of them when I lived in Beijing in the 1990’s but they were still around.
#122-003 The woman’s head covering in this 1979 photo indicates that this is in Suzhou in western China. Recent changes that had just taken place in government policies at this time allowing for limited free enterprise resulted in street vendors selling a huge variety of products including live animals. Live fish, chickens and ducks were found almost everywhere, as the Chinese are fanatics about their food being fresh. Even in later years when refrigerators became commonplace, food shopping remained a daily enterprise to ensure freshness.
#122-007a Mao made an issue of classifying farmers as “lower, middle and upper”. Then he made further sub-divisions resulting in pitting one class against another as an aspect of revolution. But in reality, the most significant distinction in Chinese society throughout the ages has been the divide between urban dwellers and the country folk. It is there that one finds the greatest prejudice and discrimination in Chinese culture.
#120-189 This bounty of produce signaled a new day for China. It was a welcome sight for locals with memory of the famine that took 20 million lives in previous years. It also signified a slight but important liberation for farmers who were now permitted to sell their excess produce to the public after meeting their government quotas set at artificially low prices.
#120-182 It was common to see many readers in the Peoples’ Park in Shanghai. I was curious as to why they chose to pay admission, sit on uncomfortable rocks and study in the park. Eventually, I visited Chinese homes and realized why. The homes were dark, cluttered, noisy and crowded with many family members living in one room. A man asked me how many children I had. “Two sons,” I replied. He slapped his leg in glee and said, “Wonderful! You can sleep with your wife.” His home had a wire strung from one wall to the other that held a curtain pulled across to divide the room. His wife and teen-age daughter slept on one side and he and his son on the other. A square table in the middle of the room doubled as study desk and dining table. Clothing was kept in cardboard boxes.
#120-161a Their job was to check documents of people arriving by train from out of town to be sure they had permission to travel. A visa is not sufficient. The moment we arrived in China we had to state everywhere we wanted to go and get stamps for that. The checkers were happy to see us so I asked why. “We want outsiders to see us. That way the government will treat us better.”
#120-165 We rented bicycles to get around in Chengdu. Our goal was to find long lost relatives with the help of the Foreign Ministry and the local police. I took this photo just before we went down that narrow alley leading to their home. My wife Loretta has already changed into local clothing and removed her ring and wristwatch. Even so, people spotted her as an outsider right away even though she was born and educated in China. Asked how they knew she was from abroad they pointed to her shoes. On the left are farmers coming to clean out the public toilets to fertilize their fields. The relatives were one of five families living in what was originally a single family home. For thirty years China put very little investment into building new housing, while the population was growing exponentially. This forced people to squeeze together and live in cramped quarters. Many problems came of this. Newlyweds had no privacy. In the case of my wife’s relatives, there were constant squabbles over the electric bill over who was using the most electricity and not paying their fair share. One of the first favors they asked of us was to buy them an electric meter so that they could splice it into the house’s wiring for an accurate measurement. Meters were considered a luxury so only those with foreign currency could buy them.
#120-155 Out of curiosity, these Chengdu girls in Western China were timidly following me down an alley. Smiling, I turned around to take their picture and they all tumbled back in a gale of giggling and laughter. After about a week, I wasn’t a strange foreigner to them any more. In the larger towns, alleys like this are a common playground for the young. This was summer and children were free from the heavy burden of schoolwork. During the school year there is little free time for youngsters. The school day is longer than we know it in the United States and homework, lots of it, starts in the first grade. Memorizing the many strokes of the Chinese writing system is very demanding and there is the expectation of achieving good penmanship. There is a tendency in Chinese culture to make judgments about a person based on the quality of penmanship. Calligraphy is one of the most highly respected art forms in China.
#120-106a A principal downside of a command economy is that production is not finely tuned to demand as it is in market economies. This resulted in under-production of busses of all sizes in favor of trucks. The only solution was to use trucks as busses. Note the ladder for access.
#120-094 If I just stood still for a moment a crowd would gather around me. Then as they discovered I spoke Chinese the crowd swelled and sometimes stopped traffic. Except for an occasional policeman, never once was anyone hostile; which was remarkable after all those years of anti-American propaganda.
#120-082 I may have been the first white foreigner these school children have ever seen in this remote village. In spite of years of propaganda, they were happy to interact and pleased to pose for my picture. My wife, Loretta Gibbs is in the background.
#120-069 In our first visit in 1979, lines like this formed everywhere; for watermelon, tomatoes or anything else that came to the market. This line went around the corner. When I asked what they were lined up for, people laughed and said they didn’t know. I went to the front and saw it was for scrawny green tomatoes. Today, thanks to western exchange agricultural scholars, the tomatoes are large, red and juicy. China paid a big price for its thirty years of isolation.
#120-065 Following Mao’s death in 1976, new government policies allowed sidewalk vendors to raise cash for themselves. These vendors selling live ducks and raw pork could set up shop on any vacant spot on the streets or on empty lots.
#120-060 My wife, Loretta Gibbs, got her first chance to return home after 30 years abroad. Her aunt had a lot to tell her about what had happened in those years, but fearing the authorities, she would only whisper or sometimes insist on a walk in the park to talk privately. Two relatives were sent to concentration camps at hard labor and two died in prison. All were political prisoners innocent of any crime. Her own daughter died as a result of her experiences as a Red Guard. She eventually committed suicide having suffered from depression that resulted from her daughter’s death.
#120-047 The writing above the water faucet on this wall in Suzhou says, “The water is on from 6 to 9 in the morning; 2-6 in the afternoon.” None of the homes in this neighborhood in 1979 had running water. People used public toilets and heated water in basins for bathing.
#120-035 Pupils designated “Young Pioneers” walk to school in a disciplined way in Beijing, 1979. Not everyone could be a Young Pioneer. Parents and grandparents needed to have Communist backgrounds. Everyone in China carries the burden of a dossier for life. If there was a landlord in the family, an association with the former government or had connections outside of China, then that stain stayed with your dossier for life. Guilt by family connection was the rule of the day. Only when the private sector economy was developed so that jobs became available outside the government sector were people able to be somewhat free from the limitations of their dossier.
#120-033 When China first re-opened in the late 1970’s, the Europeans or Russians built the few better hotels that existed. They were open only to foreigners with foreign exchange currency. Locals were excluded. These children are at the gate trying to get a peek inside forbidden territory.
#120-031a Dilapidation of structures was common throughout China. The PRC inherited a China devastated by opium, anarchy, rebellion, invasion and revolution. For people living close to the margins of survival, repairs are unimportant. For the 40 years of Mao’s rule, no one owned a building and that accounts for much of the recent ruin. A plump chicken ranks high above building maintenance. Real estate still cannot be owned. Only long-term leases leased from the government are permitted. In that regard, Karl Marx’s dictum against private ownership still reigns, even in a country where there is a stock market.
#120-004 In 1979, most that bookstores could offer were propaganda posters (which are now collectors’ items) and the works of Marx, Lenin and Mao. Bookstores now are magnets for readers and always packed with people eager for translations of western books on doing business as well as science and technology.
#116-012a This is a tie-dye station where women bring their prepared fabrics to undergo the process and then be hung up to dry on huge, tall racks. Yunnan is famous for its blue and white tie-die fabric.
#116-004a These Sanyi women, at a trading post in Yunnan Province, collect materials for embroidering to take home to work on. They then bring their finished work back to the trading post to exchange for cash. A trading post also serves as a socializing center.
#115-010 The Grand Canal in Hangzhou was begun in the 6th century CE and designed to bring grain from the fertile, water-rich south to the semi-arid power center in the north. At 2700 miles it is the longest manmade waterway in the world. It silted up from neglect during the century and a half of China’s turmoil, but the PRC invested in dredging, repair and restoration so that it now carries considerable freight traffic.
#115-004a An old junk and a modern freighter often appear side-by-side in China.
#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.
#110-043 Not heading for the beach. He’s delivering a truck tube. Within ten years one began to see the most extraordinary loads on bicycles, such as wide sofas, tables and dressers. In 1979 it was commonplace to see a mixed traffic of bicycles, horse carts, massive trucks and the occasional car that was either a taxi or a government official’s car.
#110-041 By the 1930s, the pedicab replaced the hand-pulled rickshaw. As China modernized, the motor taxis have pretty much swept away them away. However, some still remain, sometimes with a battery-powered electric motor.
#110-031a After 1979, the sound of hundreds of bicycle bells was heard in the streets. The dreadful Cultural Revolution was over. No more wholesale mobilizations of the population into frenzied rallies. The rampages of the Red Guards had ended. Peace reined and people were relaxed. It was evident everywhere except in some backward places that still had not gotten the word that it was a new day with new policies. In such places the tension was palpable; loud speakers, martial music and restrictions of every kind were perpetuated. There were no private autos yet but bicycles and trucks were becoming more available. In less than twenty years, cars will take over the streets with their noise and pollution. A new China was about to be created.
#110-027a These bicycles can carry heavy loads. This is a cargo of Chinese peppers similar to our bell peppers heading to market.
#110-022 In 1979 there was a general lack of refrigeration and almost no air-conditioning. Seeing raw meat exposed in the market was common. Soon China would build many coal-fired electric generators, a large number of new dams and also nuclear power plants.
#110-019 Finding a place to park your bicycle was a problem in 1979 in spite of the fact that the only vehicles were those owned by the government: including the bus in the background and the military jeep to the right. Today, as a result of a large population with improving living wages and affordable automobiles, parking in major cities has reached nightmare proportions.
I#110-017 In spite of the major streets in China being clogged with heavy traffic, the tricycle street sweeping machines remains in use on many of the calmer side streets. In large buildings such as airports, pedaled machines are used to polish the floors. White shirts are regarded as somewhat formal wear whereas colored shirts are considered to be sporty and informal. In the summer heat when coats are not worn, office workers tend to wear a collared white shirt.
#110-013a With dignity, this tricycle hauler is taking water hyacinth to the country. Pigs grow fat on it. In America this plant is considered a nuisance that clogs waterways. The Raleigh bicycle was imported from England and imitated in Chinese factories. My wife’s grandfather owned a factory that manufactured a Chinese Raleigh. In the communist era, factories produced heavier bicycles than the Raleigh and were just one speed. Those are the sturdy bicycles that are seen with big hogs tied over the back wheel being hauled to market. The three-wheeled chain-driven cycle may have been invented in Southeast Asia. The Japanese used bicycle wheels to make rickshaws, which then were introduced to China. The efficiency of the Pedi cab drove out the rickshaw. The vehicle here is called a banche, and in 1979 it was being used as an ambulance, cargo carrier and as a passenger vehicle in the countryside.
#110-007 Muscle economy. China’s large population and available cheap muscle labor influences the continuation of handcarts that has been in use for over 4000 years. Many things that pay off in the West don’t pay in China. For example, the large size of our farms in the West makes a tractor investment economic, but the small size of a Chinese farm rules out investments in expensive modern mechanization. In China, a cheap labor force and an ox on a small farm are affordable and economic. Thus, in modern China, we still see a lot of labor like this.
#109-010a This lady is hobbling on tiny bound feet in the courtyard of what was once the home of a prosperous landowner. The revolution following WWII expropriated the property. The compound became the site of a commune or labor brigade when China collectivized in the early 1950’s. A tattered bulletin board to the woman’s right usually posted government propaganda. The binding of feet was outlawed in the early years of the Republican government under Chiang Kai-shek.
#107-010 These are members of the Sanyi group in Yunnan Province. The baby carriers are handmade, embroidered and colorful. The minority people tend to make lavish use of color, while the Han tend towards the drab. The Han constitute over 90% of China’s population. A minority woman said, “Only when something is not beautiful do the Han say it’s beautiful.
#103-005 A young woman captured in a pensive moment guarding her family’s pony cart at the village market. The pony cart is a combination of old and new. The wheels are spoked and feature modern rubber tires but the woodwork joinery of the wagon is reflective of old world skills handed down for centuries.
#100-015 For a small fee the attendant will hang a leather throng over your handlebars with a wooden tally attached. You are given a tally with a matching number and watch over your bike. Even so, people still lock their bicycles. Another similar parking lot can be seen in the left background.
#100-012 Men traditionally frequented teahouses to socialize and exchange gossip. The better ones included venues for storytellers and musicians. That’s a tobacco pipe in the man’s hands. Women were much too busy to enjoy such leisure. The faded sign above the door indicates this is a teahouse.
#095-031 After 1979, three years after Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping allowed farmers to sell their surplus produce on the open market. These women are selling bitter melon called kugua and cucumbers. A wooden hand scale is leaning against the woman’s leg. They are giggling because I told them I admired their improvised stools.
#095-007a In 1979 the quality of fruit was very poor. By the 1990’s the improvement was remarkable. My university (UC) and other schools opened its labs and made its seeds available to visiting scholars from China proving the benefits of ending its isolation.
#094-032a The cap indicates she is a member of the Sanyi ethnic group, one of China’s 55 or so national minorities. The tabs pointing up signify her unmarried status; when she marries, they will be folded down over the top of her head.
#094-022 This gathering is at a minority trading post located between Shaping and Dali in Yunnan Province. My wife, Loretta Gibbs, has attracted their attention, as foreigners were very rare at this time in this region. The colorful design of the women’s clothing has not changed over the millennia.
#094-017 This crowded market in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, is typical of markets throughout China—women shopping for fresh vegetables with youngsters in tow. People in this area wear a back padding as part of their clothing whether carrying a backpack or not. It’s part of everyday wear. The back padding protects their back and their clothing from the rough wooden backpacks used for carrying goods to market and firewood from the forest. The steep mountains in the areas make wheeled vehicles impractical for villagers.
#094-014 With the exception of the one man eyeing the photographer, these people are enthralled by a street performer in the the Kashgar town square stuffing a small snake up his nostril and out his mouth. Kashgar is on the west side of the Taklamakan Desert and famous for its bazaar and camel market. Merchants on the ancient Silk Road used horses to cross the mountains from the Middle East and then swapped them here in the bazaar for camels more suited to desert travel.
#094-001 Kashgar is an ancient trading post on the old Silk Road. Its the last oasis before leaving China heading west to Central Asia and Europe. These men, father and son, are copper craftsmen, a popular product the region is known for. The city dates back to over 2000 years and the area fertile with vegetables, fruits and livestock. The majority of the population here are Muslims.
#090-071 Mao famously said, “Women hold up half the sky,” a dictum meant to elevate the status of women and usher them into the work force. This woman was very deft in maneuvering this behemoth. Women drive large, packed, articulated buses through streets clogged with traffic, bicycles and pedestrians but I never saw a woman driving trucks.
#090-039a A Naxi minority woman and baby in Lijiang, Yunnan Province. The Naxi are believed to be descended from Tibetans. They have their own language and writing system.
#088-030a This cart of firewood will be made into charcoal for cooking. Her husband is in front pulling while she pushes with her child trailing behind. In the background on the right is a sidewalk vendor, a typical low overhead way of doing business.
#088-029a This lady is sitting beside the main footpath in the village of Lijiang in Yunnan Province. She is waiting for customers. When I asked for a certain thing she had ran out of, she said, “Wait here. I’ll run home for more.” She hadn’t the slightest qualms about leaving her merchandise untended with a stranger. This trusting behavior was common in the countryside.
#088-025a The central market in Lijiang, Yunnan Province as it appeared before development as a tourist center. Note the small stools put out for customers. Great weights could be carried by a single slice of a bamboo pole which, pound-for-pound, is stronger than steel. For the people living in the surrounding remote mountain villages and hamlets, it is a 2-3 day shopping trip.
#088-016 This scene is typical of thousands of old villages in the remote countryside throughout China. Electricity has been introduced allowing for radio and government controlled news. The narrowness of the streets and the construction of the buildings make it near impossible to economically modernize these villages. The streets are too narrow for heavy construction equipment to excavate and lay sewage pipes or widen to allow for modern traffic. Consequently, many such towns cannot be modernized. Economic activity has bypassed them in favor of whole new towns. Some of these old towns have been preserved from demolition and have become lively tourist attractions for people with a nostalgic interest in seeing a slice of old China.
#088-013 The man and the woman at the storefront are wearing garments made of sheepskin. They are of the Naxi minority in the mountain town of Lijiang in the Yunnan area. Yunnan is known for its Naxi minority population.
#088-012a The three most important things for a Chinese chef are freshness, freshness and freshness. That is why poultry sold in the farmers’ markets all over China are sold live. The sign in the background says, “No selling of any object that the nation clearly forbids.” Since Lijiang is a remote village in China’s southwestern Province of Yunnan, the concern is likely over selling endangered species for Chinese medicine.
#070-120 Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76) closed schools. Young city people were sent to the countryside to be re-educated by poor farmers. Separated from their homes and families for an undetermined time and forced to live in shocking conditions, the emotional suffering for some was unbearable. The strong ancient tradition of respect for elders and parents was put under attack. Youngsters were taught to mistrust their parents and to see them as a bad influence. Many young people, such as the young woman here in the front row, second from the left, were driven insane and placed in asylums filled with people about her same age. The young woman, now deceased, was my wife’s niece. Her mother, my wife’s sister, committed suicide. The photographer, Don Gibbs, is standing on the left. The doctor is the tall man in the center: the girl’s father on the far right. The mother is in the left front row. The girls’ aunt, Loretta Gibbs (photographer’s wife) is on the front right. All the others are nurses.
#053-030a LONG LIVE MARXISM-LENINISM blares this overpowering slogan on the building but it is unlikely anyone in this remote mountain town has much grasp of the texts. Some didn’t know who they were. Maoism and Marxism didn’t leave an indelible mark on all of the Chinese population, which tells us something about the persistence of culture. It also is a statement of how difficult it will be to inscribe democratic values in a culture steeped in hierarchy and deference to authority.
#046-039a This is the main Yunnan highway from Dali to Shaping. It is also a highway where the old China collides with the new resulting in many tragic accidents due to mixed traffic. Ponies have been used in China for over 2000 years. It is only natural for them to run the center of the road.
#044-032 The photographer, Don Gibbs, with a young lady of the Bai nationality in Yunnan Province, in the 1980’s.
#043-093 The sign on this modest Hainan Island building says “Exhibition of artifacts showing the life history of the Miao People.’ The Miao are one of China’s larger minorities. They are located in many parts of China’s southern provinces.
#043-079 The centrally planned economy under Maoist rule over produced tractors and under produced trucks. The local solution was to convert a tractor to a truck using a welder’s torch. The exposed pulleys on the tractor have caused countless accidents in China. A lifetime of unrelenting hard work, childbirth and a lack of calcium very likely are the cause of this elderly woman’s stoop.
#043-067 It’s summer but everyone is bundled up in this village in northern Heilongjiang Province. It is near the Amur River that marks the border with Russia. This is where the Manchu minority dwelled before they conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty that lasted from 1644 to 1911 when the Republican revolution de-throned them. Under the PRC, this region was where people were originally exiled to and later became a new frontier for populating and development. Here, the winters are harsh, the soil fertile and the forests magnificent.
#043-038a The role for girls is inscribed early in the countryside. The older girl is charged with the care of the younger. Door couplets traditionally portrayed fierce warriors but here tradition has been set-aside in favor of the Peoples’ Liberation Army soldiers who are mounted on white horses of the old days. Door gods were refreshed with new ones at News Years’ time. The writing on the right says “The sun is out; our sacred land now sets a proper course.” It’s matching line on the left says, “Spring is here; China sets forth great plans.” Above the door: “The sun renews, the moon rises,” signifying a new day in a continuum. The children are wearing good clothes and the house is made of bricks signifying prosperity. The end tiles on the roof indicate this house is very old.
#043-027 These elders are sitting in front of the entrance to the Finance Bureau of the Lunan District government in the Zang minority area. The Zang are one of the 55 or so national minorities. They are just resting there, not waiting to see anyone inside. Although they are Chinese nationals, their dialect is not one many foreigners like me can speak.
#043-023a In China’s countryside, you buy liquid goods such as soy sauce by taking your own empty bottle to the store to be filled from a bulk vat. This cheerful young girl is happy to see me. I asked her and others why and she replied, “It means we’re in a new time now if foreigners are coming to our country. It will be a better time.” The building in the background indicates she is part of a commune work brigade. Such collectives were formed in the mid-1950s. In 1979, individual leased plots were introduced and much favored by the farmers over the collectives.
#043-001 Truck drivers ruled the roads in the early days of auto traffic. A macho culture developed. If there was room for one vehicle on the road, the truck prevailed. It was common to see two trucks stopped face to face on a one-lane bridge with the engines off and the drivers sitting at the side smoking and not talking to each other. It was a stand off, neither wanting to lose face as traffic in both directions piled up into a nightmarish traffic jam. Trucks ruled over busses, busses ruled cars, cars ruled bicycles and bicycles ruled pedestrians. Road hazards were never marked and fatalities high in the early years. In some respects, this was a reflection of the hierarchical priorities of Chinese society. The powerful dominated the weaker as we have today.
#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.
#034-024 This Shanghai downtown street seems eerily deserted. In 1979, only a few bicycles and government cars were about owing to strict rationing.Two kinds of sedans were produced. There was the huge lumbering Red Flag brand that was modeled after a ponderous Russian car that itself was modeled after a Lincoln. Only the highest officials rode in those. Lesser officials rode in a modest sedan, the Shanghai brand. All of China’s investments went into heavy industry during the Maoist years. Only after Mao’s death did light industry begin to manufacture consumer goods. As for cars, today Shanghai is a large market for the world’s most luxurious brands.
In 1979, the historic old Nanking East Road was Shanghai’s main shopping street. The surge of crowds on the streets was so great authorities had to install pipe railings to keep them safe and prevent jaywalking. Years earlier, Hong Kong’s congested downtown did the same thing. The first faint traces of clothing style are creeping into view after the drabness of the Maoist years.
#034-020 Coming out of the dark years of Maoist rule, obese people were uncommon. This Shanghai street sign provide Chinese graphs, a phonetic transcription, and a compass direction.
#034-018a What you don’t see here is stylish clothing because it’s just after the opening up of China: the beginning of a new kind of liberation. There is now some color emerging on the streets other than the standard blue such as patterned dresses and skirts. Mini skirts were not long in following.
#033-009a Outdoor martial arts practice was a common street scene. During this period, parks charged admission. When parks were made free, such activities moved from the streets to the parks. Cars took over the streets making this kind of street activity unthinkable.
#031-006 Boats like this one in Suzhou carry freight and produce in and out of the city. In old China, waterways were the principal transportation arteries, particularly in the south and along the eastern seaboard. Now concrete highways and heavy trucks dominate.
Lovely old tree lined neighborhoods were demolished by the square mile to make way for new hi-rise housing and commercial buildings. Cityscapes all over China were transformed with many scandals over compensation.
#027-060a People were conveyed to hospitals on flatbed tricycles. In one of the remote villages I visited, by being tied to motorcycles.
#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.”
#027-033 Where once there might have been a single dwelling, now there are many. One household may contain more than one family. Each family would include two, three or four generations. Housing construction during the 40 years of Maoist rule never kept up with population growth because the centrally planned economy emphasized investment in heavy industry instead.
#027-013 A city block in China might be four times the size of ours. It will be connected throughout with numerous alleyways and lanes to give access to homes within the center of the block. It can make addresses hard to find, but there is a community formed from the close proximity of so many dwellers.
#027-012a Behind the pedestrians is a policeman who is speaking with a group. White shirts and dark pants were the uniform of the era: white in the summer, blue in the winter. Today, China’s cities are a blur of colors and fashion. In the distant background we see girls in their school uniforms. Policemen have the right to confiscate their bicycles for an hour or two as on-the-spot punishment for infractions. Often, one would see two or three bicycles leaning against the police kiosk.
#026-221 Turfan, on the old Silk Route in China’s far western area of Xinjiang, suffers long hot summers of 119 degrees and long cold winters of minus 20 degrees. An ancient irrigation system brings water for vegetation that provides a merciful leafy canopy overhead for the hot summers.
#026-151 This typical hospital ward in a small city was a big step upward from the medical care provided by the previous young people who were known in the West as Barefoot Doctors.
#026-145 A foreign motorist in North China, near the Russian border, patiently waits while her flat tire is repaired without the benefit of modern hydraulic equipment. Bad roads meant repair stations were necessary and available all along rural highways.
#026-126 At a country railroad station, you are likely to see just about anything because the passenger station doubled as a freight transfer depot. Many of these rural stations provided washbasins for train riders to freshen up. These were welcomed because the crowded trains were not always clean on the long runs and not air-conditioned.
#026-119a The closest thing to organized sports in ancient China was the annual Dragon Boat Festival that often saw teams from different villages competing against each other. In agricultural societies festivals tend to occur at regular intervals throughout the year. In fact, the word for festival in China is the same word for the regularly spaced knots on bamboo. The festival is believed to have originated in the death by drowning of a loyal official, Qu Yuan, who was banished for his honest criticism of his ruler in the third century BCE. Local people, it is said, raced out on the water in boats to save him, and when they realized he had drowned, they took meat in rice balls, wrapped them in bamboo leaves and dropped them in the river to lure fish away from the revered man’s body. Always ready to turn any occasion into an opportunity for dining, this is said to be the origin of the famous Zongzi dish, which are prepared exactly like what was put into the river so many centuries ago.
#026-100a Since the dawn of Chinese civilization, muscle power ruled. This man is pulling a heavy load of thick crockery urns to market. I was struck by the contrast with the comfortable, leisurely couple in the Pedi cab.
#026-099 There was a surge of new construction starting in 1979 before World Bank loans and foreign investments began to take hold. Construction materials and techniques were still primitive compared to what was coming in the following decades. Here, along a canal in Suzhou, boats full of rocks for building and road construction are unloaded by hand.
#026-051 These little Yunnanese ponies wear a leather ring of bells around their neck that jingle with each step. You hear caravans of them every morning as they head into Kunming with produce from the surrounding countryside. Ponies have always played an important role in Chinese culture and have existed before the earliest dynasties.
#021-015 Unloading ships in Hong Kong was a clutter of well-organized muscle power. Boats flying Taiwan’s flag and the PRC’s tied up side-by-side without conflict throughout the Cold War years.
#021-009 Unloading ships in Hong Kong was a clutter of well-organized muscle power. Boats flying Taiwan’s flag and the PRC’s tied up side-by-side without conflict throughout the Cold War years.
#019-002 Diesel electric locomotives were imported from Romania. During this era, passenger trains never exceeded 36 miles per hour. Passenger stations doubled as freight transfer depots. One could see a variety of local produce and manufactured products piled in them, including live poultry. Note the flatbed wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was a very early invention in China. Some featured sails and carried passengers seated, one on either side of a centered wheel. The centered wheel carried most of the weight, unlike the wheelbarrow invented in the West.
#017-001 Typically, sidewalks are used for almost anything but pedestrians. Here bicycles sprawl while elsewhere there are light manufacturing being performed and vegetable stands and laundry spilling out onto the street blocking passage. These days automobiles use the sidewalks for parking. This little tricycle truck is ubiquitous for hauling passengers and freight. Many, like this one, are motor-assisted pedal vehicles.
#015-195 The man is holding a tobacco pipe. The door features protective warriors. On the right and left are the obligatory couplets that traditionally declared prosperity and good tidings for the coming new year. This couplet is modern, however, saying “Every family has abundance; the Party’s policies are good.” On the left, “Every household is joyous; the district’s atmosphere is fresh.’
#015-072 These two-piece raincoats are being sold on a dirt lot in Shaping. When free markets, as they were called then, were permissible, people formed their own markets on vacant lots, on sidewalks, in village squares or anyplace where there was open space.
#012-037 Street sweepers and bicycles have been squeezed out by heavy traffic choking all the thoroughfares.
#012-005 This photo was taken in 1986. Between 1949 and 1979, no American films were allowed in China. Beginning in 1979, the PRC allowed five American films per year. Prior to 1979, the only billboards seen in China were those featuring political slogans such as “Serve the People,” and “Long Live Mao Zedong.” After being sealed off from the West for nearly 40 years these villagers could not relate to a Richard Burton movie poster. Currently, the PRC allows for 34 American films per year.
#008-022 Cured tobacco leaves for sale on a village sidewalk. Once farmers were liberated to sell their surplus products after satisfying state quotas, people sold them in the nearest town. Often, people said triumphantly, that they did not have to pay taxes unaware that compulsory selling of their produce to the government at fixed rates was a form of tax.
#4051-D-637 This scene is familiar in contemporary America (2020) but it’s a scene of what should not happen in a country that regards itself as communist. The text explains this man’s plight and how some gross injustice has brought him to this state. Most of these texts were quite elegant in content and calligraphy. This man is sleeping on newspapers and placed a cup for change. It was empty. That little plastic bag he is using for a pillow contains his essential papers and maybe a toothbrush.
#4051-D-705 The policies of Mao placed farmers in communes that amalgamated villages and small towns into huge work units of as many as 30,000 people sub-divided into work brigades and work teams. This collectivization aimed at realizing the perfect communism resulted in a famine that caused fifty million people to lose their lives. The immediate remedy was to allow farmers to grow food on small private plots and sell them in open-air markets such as this one. Eventually the communes were disbanded and farmers were allowed to lease land to farm as they pleased without external command. Under Marxism, all land belongs to the state, and still does. What one buys is a lease. The issue of land ownership still has not been resolved as of 2020
#4051-D-743 Sellers at the flea market tended to offer a mix of authentically old items in together with newer things that were made to look old. There was often a very spirited give and take between buyers and sellers as they negotiated toward what both would regard as a fair price.
#4051-D-744 In this covered area of the Beijing flea market, very few items are antiques. The overhead roof and the ground paving is a great improvement over the open air and bare dirt market. The best bargains and better antiques were found in the section of the huge market that remained uncovered and on bare earth. On the two weekend days of the market fifteen thousand people showed up each day. Eventually the market became sub-divided into sections for hanging art, books, furniture and one for non-regular sellers who were relegated to the dirt areas without a roof. Later, a section for food emerged and at last, public toilets.
#4051-D-766 In the older parts of Chinese cities the living quarters are cramped and the streets are narrow. Such neighborhoods are giving way to the wrecking ball in favor of constructing colorless, uninteresting skyscraper housing that often are separated from the convenient neighborhood markets and stalls. Note here the laundry hanging outside on bamboo poles and the absence of vehicular traffic.
#4051-D-877 This guy is snoozing while waiting for a fare. Pedicabs, once ubiquitous, soon became squeezed out of all the major cities by the automobile. Now they are seen only in the small rural towns of China. Pedicabs replaced the old rickshaws that were hand pulled by men running between two shafts and were a great improvement by mechanizing the transmission of foot power by means of geared sprockets. Pedicabs have a canopy that can be pulled up for rain protection.
#001-001 This prosperous farmhouse is made of bricks with a tile roof. The style of beautiful woven basket on the cart is hundreds of years old. The packed earth courtyard is used for threshing and chili peppers are hung to dry. In old China there would be four or five generations living within these walls. While the middle aged and young worked the fields the elderly would care for and bond with the infants
#001-072 Sidewalks in China are used for sales and manufacturing. This family of three generations is making leather horse and mule collars and bridles in western China
#001-111a This man lost his leg in a farming accident. Safety in farms and factories were not an issue. Everywhere that I visited in China, unprotected saws, giant pulleys without covers and tractors with dangerous exposed moving parts were common. In a country claiming the benefits of socialism, I was surprised to see many people begging and needing medical care.
#004-004 China’s ancient Grand Canal is 2700 miles long. It is eleven times longer than the Panama Canal and the longest man made waterway in the world. The Grand Canal was designed to bring the harvests from the grain rich water abundant south to the power center in the north. Construction began in the sixth century CE. The PRC government has made great efforts to restore the canal to operational use as seen here near Hangzhou. Rivers in China run from west to east. The north-south canal, needing to cross many rivers at varying levels, required the Chinese to invent water locks around 900 CE. Locks first appeared in the West 400 years later.
#004-015 Construction of the Grand Canal started during the Sui dynasty in 605 CE. Over five million people including women and children were conscripted into the project and an estimated two million died. The canal provided for a safe inland transportation system against storms and pirates and connected the agricultural productive south to north China where the central government is located.
#007-003 This is a recycle collection yard. The broken slab in the foreground says “Mao Zedong Thought,” the all-encompassing ideology of the PRC that became an extreme orthodoxy during the terrible years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). This broken slogan would have brought a death penalty in that era to the persons responsible.
#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-603 This is an exposed section of the old city wall that once surrounded Beijing. It shows that the core of such walls in China, including the Great wall, was packed earth, a kind of adobe that was compressed so hard that even after all these decades it has not eroded. The outer facade of the wall on both sides and the top was lined with brick. This section had not collapsed; it was a hole punched through to accommodate the first railroad train line to enter the city. Because these walls were impervious to cannon fire, the Chinese dismissed gunpowder as a serious weapon of war so that after inventing gunpowder, no further research was done in China to improve it.
#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.
#4051-D-583 This photo shot from one of the few remaining guard towers from the old city wall that surrounded Beijing before Mao ordered it torn down. This tower was unused during the three hundred years of the Qing Dynasty, but allied soldiers bivouacked there following the siege of the Legation District during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and used again by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. We know this from graffiti visible before the tower was rebuilt in the 1990’s. This is looking southwest.
#4051-D-580 Dongbian Men in 1979 before its refurbishment. It was originally built during the Ming Dynasty in 1564 by Emperor Jiajing as further defense against the Mongols. Note the botanical growth on the top of the wall leading to the gigantic front doors.
#4051-D-578 This is a second-class sleeper car on a 1979 long distance train in China. Bunks were hard platforms with a sheet, thin blanket and a small pillow, and consisted of two sets of bunks stacked three high facing each other. There was no privacy so people slept with their clothes on. A passenger brought his own teacup and tealeaves and hot water was available in a kind of samovar at the end of each car. Clotheslines for drying towels were brought by experienced passengers. First class sleepers provided private rooms with four bunks but cost about the same as airfare. Per Marxism’s dogma, the rail system calls first-class, either “Soft-seat class” or “Soft-berth class.” Here, at far right we see the ends of three-tiers of bunks in “Hard-bed” class. Bunks nearest the ceiling are the cheapest. The bottom bunk is more expensive even though it suffers from other passengers sitting on it during the daytime.
#4051-D-575 Dongbian Men was a guard tower at the southeast corner of the now demolished ancient city wall surrounding Beijing. It suffered damage through neglect and the ravages of war and revolution. It was completely refurbished at the end of the 20th century and used as an art gallery.
#4051-D-573 This is one of the last surviving segments of the ancient city wall built in the 1400’s by the new Ming emperor. Mao ordered the old wall demolished as an impediment to traffic. He had no toleration for ancient artifacts, although he ruled in the style of the ancient emperors. His decision horrified many who had pleaded with Mao to build a new city to the west of the old.
#4051-D-572A There were no private automobiles in China in 1979. There were only heavy trucks, electric trolley bus, a locally made army jeep, plus three-wheelers. Automobiles were for government officials.
#4051-D-559 Before people had gas or electric stoves, many just grabbed a quick bowl of soybean soup and cruller for breakfast. The buyer is holding two steamed buns for his meal, a luxury during this era. You bring your own bowl and drink from the bowl or you bring a plastic bag for the broth and take it home to eatThe sameness of the clothing style is indicative of 1979 at the beginning of China’s new opening to the outside world. Note the low stools for the patrons at the far left.
#153-017 This farm couple lives in Yunnan, near the Stone Forest, a cluster of fascinating karst formations. They consented to their portrait only if I included their statue of Chairman Mao. The inscription on the pedestal says “Long Live Chairman Mao.” They are members of the Sanyi minority where women prefer traditional garments but the men favor plain work clothes.
#184-010 An independent entrepreneur is drying pigskin to be sold to householders or restaurants to make a thick broth. Once citizens were permitted to open small businesses, many activities like this began appearing on the streets just like they had before the communist revolution. Instead of capitalism, China calls it “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
#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.
#204-118 The clutter, lack of paving, no sidewalks and the loud speakers on the tower are typical of an ordinary urban center in 1987 China. During the Cultural Revolution when all of China was locked into a kind of semi-military mode, every village, town and city had these loud speakers and the same program coming out of them for the entire nation. At dawn, the citizens were awakened by loud martial music blaring out of those powerful loud speakers placed all over town. The music was followed by a female voice shouting callisthenic commands. By 1979, this morning routine had faded away just about everywhere except for the relatively backwater towns such as this one.
#204-121 This young mother with a baby on her back is visiting downtown Kunming. Her clothing indicates she is from the countryside. City dwelling women dressed differently and used a different type of baby carrier. This 1987 photo was taken at a time when the nation was at peace with itself and emerging from the tumultuous days of the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution. A 1986 campaign against “Spiritual Pollution” had just come to an end. A great building frenzy was just around the corner and new policies allowing the development of a private sector in the economy were taking root.
#204-266 Each doorway in this Beijing alley represents a family home consisting of a single room. In the background is an example of the first generation housing built by the PRC. All this would become rubble after the 1990’s when Beijing went skyward. The wife of the famous writer Lu Ling lived here while he was in prison for association with independent writers.
205-005 Sign Foreigners Not Permitted There were checkpoints at the roads leading out into the countryside. The government realized how far behind Western countries China had fallen so wanted outsiders held back until China could catch up. The countryside was, indeed, primitive, unsanitary and often heartbreaking to outsiders who cared and believed the people deserved better conditions.
#4051-D-098 Thousands of miles of new railroad track were a major accomplishment of the government that came to power in 1949. Prior to that time, war, revolution, anarchy and foreign invasion made any significant infrastructure projects impossible. In the 1970’s and ’80’s, one needed permission to travel.
#4051-D-106 Chinese culture places a high premium on ceramics. When the Chinese invention of porcelain reached the outside world people marveled at its ability to withstand high temperatures as well as its medium for artistic under glaze art work. Lacking any word for it in English, it was, and is, simply called “Chinaware.” Only clay that is baked at very high temperatures qualifies as porcelain. Low-fired pieces are called pottery.
#4051-D-489 Shanghai, 1979. The relaxing of government controls allowed people to sell their wares at any price the market would pay. People flocked into the cities with all kinds of handiwork in addition to vegetables and poultry grown on their newly allowed private plots.
#4051-D-491 A city dweller inspecting what the farmer has brought into the city to sell. When liberalized policies let farmers freely sell their surpluses over and above what they were required to sell to the government at fixed prices, so many sellers lined the streets that city governments had to build designated areas to accommodate this free marketing.
#4051-D-493 The placard beside the entrance in the background says “Library.” Note that all the bicycles in China at that time were black.
#152-002 In 1979, a small transaction was not a casual affair. In a struggle for survival, bargaining, careful supervision of the weighing and the exact counting of change was a normal way of life. This simple inexpensive portable scale has been used in China for centuries.
#132-014a By ancient tradition in China, the father was a stern and distant figure who left the care of children in the hands of the household women. The old ways are falling away now as we can see in the tender hand and loving expression on this father’s face.
#132-011 Girl enjoying ice cream in Beijing. The one child policy was introduced in 1980. This policy was the result of an exploding population growth, shortage of food and a Cultural Revolution lacking in intellectual capacity. The government decided to ration children in the same fashion as coal and grain. For over 1000 years, the Chinese culture demanded that a male heir carry on the family’s name in addition to caring for his parents in their old age. From the very outset of this new law, girls were a surplus. This resulted in infanticide and abandonment of newborn girls. Many were adopted by the west. Women giving birth to a second child were severely fined or forced to have an abortion. Women were abused for their failure to produce a boy. Girls were prevented from marrying until they were 20 and too old by tradition to marry after 25. But the law required that no mother should give birth before 24. Many were subjected to regular pregnancy tests, some about twice a month and were forbidden to travel without a certificate stating they were not pregnant.
#132-002a In 1979, foreigners were still a rare sight on in China. These schoolboys stopped to take a good look at me and were happy to oblige when I asked to take their picture. All four are wearing the red scarf that identifies them as “Young Pioneers.” They were also known as “The Red Scarves.” Membership is not only political but is based on deportment, grades, and physicality: meaning hygiene and performance in exercises. Children age 6 to 14 were eligible. After age 14, some were admitted to the Communist Youth League, a path to possible membership in the Communist Party.
#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.
#123-053 When the streets of Beijing were quiet. People are lined up at a bus stop as two women head home with their fish for dinner. Chinese prize freshness and ingredients above all else. These specimens would have been alive in a tank just a short time ago.
#122-026 This marvelous homemade contraption super heats rice to make what we call puffed rice. The fire is down in the bucket. When it works, it sounds like small cannon fire. He rotates from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the week.
#122-020 When at last a small measure of free enterprise was permitted, people were eager to sell their farm produce or craft items. As there were no regular outlets in place, sellers just plopped down anywhere and everyone understood. This seller may have made the baskets himself or he might be a middleman. China was now on the track leading to a private sector in the economy and the door open for capitalism.
#122-013 For thousands of years, like many other countries, laundry is hung outdoors to dry. In 1972, when President Nixon visited China, Mao ordered that all laundry to be kept indoors and out of sight. A teenage student, a family friend, wrote an editorial to a Hong Kong radio station criticizing Mao’s order. He was tracked down, arrested and executed. In this photo, honey buckets are put outside in the early morning to be collected by farmers for fertilizer. This householder scrubs the bucket clean using the Suzhou canal water and then tilts the lid for it to dry.
#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.
#027-010a After 1979, a vendor was free to set up shop just about anywhere. This farmer, with his ever-present teacup at hand, has his very own “corner market” to sell his sugar canes.
#031-005 These boatmen in Suzhou carry produce and passengers to the cities along the Grand Canal and its tributary canal system.
#049-007 A West Lake scene that has been viewed by the various dynasties over the past three thousand years.
#094-031a When China opened to outsiders, they had been warned not to be friendly with foreigners. When the police saw them talking to foreigners, they would investigate: demanding to know what the conversation was about. Speaking Mandarin, I was able to overcome this barrier by spontaneously praising the child’s mother upon meeting and out of respect, ask permission to photograph them. Very rarely did I experience objections or problems with the police if I kept the conversation short.
#095-018 When farmers were permitted to sell their surplus produce on the open market, anyplace would do to set up shop. One might see a farmer with a chicken in each hand, standing alone: the flapping fowl his only advertising. Here, a farmer spreads his potatoes in the middle of the sidewalk to compete with bags and baskets of other produce.
#100-009 The absence of cars, the drab buildings and the uniformity of apparel is a snapshot of China as it began to open up to the outside world in the late 1970’s. Anyone who has been to Shanghai recently will find it hard to believe this is a downtown street in the heart of the city. Nanjing East Road is at the end of the block straight ahead. The foliage in view is the Peoples’ Park has now been removed to make room for government buildings.
#104-013 In spite of labor being cheap, uncollected garbage littered sidewalks even in the largest cities. Some villages were filthy beyond belief. Today, changes in government policies have led to greater awareness of civic order and general cleanliness.
#107-006 Mini-restaurants opened at the same time farmers were allowed to sell their produce on sidewalks. This continues in most places today, as the food is convenient and cheap. Her sheepskin rain cape tells us this was taken in Yunnan.
#110-021a There are an endless variety of these homebuilt sidecars on city streets but not in the countryside. Farmers have no use for this kind of thing and would consider it coddling. The “little emperor” is enjoying a soda while the parent finishes grocery shopping. Bicycles were still considered a luxury and most of the population walked or caught the bus. The one-child policy was written into the 1978 constitution and the new regulations put into effect in 1980. Subsequently, a single male such as we see here became known as “the little emperor.” The emphasis in China on a male heir to continue the family line resulted in the current imbalance in the male to female ratio. Social problems for men unable to obtain a wife led to the relaxation of the one-child policy in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
#110-042 These frontage avenues were reserved for bicycles and pedestrians before cars and trucks took over. Now these frontage avenues are filled with parked cars. In some cases, they are obliterated by widening the street to an eight or ten lane boulevard.
#120-021 Many newlyweds had no place of their own to live so the family pitched in to build the addition you see with the open rafters. The family’s main house to the left is an addition also which was originally an open courtyard; and so was the structure to the right. People did what they had to do to create living space because for 40 years, Mao directed all resources towards heavy industry rather than housing, household goods or infrastructure. Today, a high-rise hotel is on this location and the people moved to the suburbs.
#120-027a Homes are so cramped and dark that people go to the sidewalk for sunshine and fresh air. These men, most of them retirees, enjoy their daily game of cards. The Chinese invented playing cards in the 9th century CE.
#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.
#023-006 This is a typical country village railroad crossing where the safety bar is hand operated. Trucks were used as buses and personal autos rare. Pony carts, bicycles and walking were the main modes of transportation. Trash seen on the left was common in public spaces.
#015-196a Frequent heavy downpours are common in the southern region that includes Beijing. The temperatures are milder and the area a center for Chinese cultural development. This region is the northern section of the Great Wall.
#015-064 Dali in Yunnan is laid out typical of old China with a long main street and a city gate at each end. All Chinese cities and towns were laid out in a grid of streets surrounded by protective walls with guarded gates. The gates were opened at dawn and closed at dusk. Dali still has its gates but the walls are gone. The building overhang design offers shelter from rain. In 1979 bicycles were severely rationed. By the late 1980’s production increases made it possible for anyone to buy one if they had the money. A woman in those days wanted her fiancé to have a bicycle, a sewing machine and a washing machine. These items were rare in the marketplace after years of government investments focused on heavy industry.
#004-013 Construction of China’s Grand Canal started during the Sui dynasty in 605 CE. Over five million people including women and children were conscripted into the project and an estimated two million died. The canal provided for a safe inland transportation system against storms and pirates that connected the agricultural productive south to north China where the central government is located. Today, many houses line China’s Grand Canal and its tributaries.
#001-042 Women much prefer to do factory work rather than the drudgery of farming. I did notice in most of the factories I visited that workers did not wear facemasks or ear protection nor did management enforce their use. There was no interest in my explanation how bad effects can take years to develop and become ruinous to the health in later years.
#001-004 Hospitality is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture so that works well for a foreign photographer who speaks Chinese. But in this case, I snapped the picture with the camera still hanging from my neck at the same time I was speaking a friendly greeting. The expression on each person registers a slightly different response, but all were very friendly. That’s a hand-held scale the woman is holding.
#4051-D-709 Not all the antiques in the Beijing flea market were genuine. With authentic antiques being depleted, skillfully manufactured imitations began flooding the market. Many were so well done that they took on a substantial value in their own right as artifacts of interest. The great Beijing flea market began with sidewalk sellers laying out their wares near established antique shops. It expanded to the edge of an ad hoc dump. Alarmed at the health issue, city authorities soon paved and roofed the dump. An unpaved section remained and became known as “the dirt market.” Those selling under the roof were regular sellers; those in the dirt market tended to be farmers and construction workers who brought in newly found items for just one weekend. Experienced buyers went there first when the market opened at dawn.
#4051-D-707 For the first fifty years of the PRC, flea markets by individuals were not allowed. After 1979 policies were liberalized. In the 1990’s a new phenomenon brought about flea markets. Housing previously state-owned, could now be bought by the occupants at reasonable prices. That in turn caused a new consumer demand for remodeling, re-decorating and better furnishing. By this time, the command economy was directed to produce consumer goods such as refrigerators, washing machines and small appliances. A by-product of this development was the need to generate money to buy these things by selling off household antiques. In addition, massive construction projects turned up artifacts from excavations. China’s largest flea market for antiques and trinkets was the famous open-air weekend Panjiayuan flea market, picture here, in southwest Beijing.
#4051-D-635 In the absence of a local newspaper, informal posters filled the gap. There might be notices of one’s school exams, an execution, missing persons or an expression of a grievance. A fairly common notice advertised for someone to swap a job assignment with. For example, a husband and wife might be assigned jobs in places so distant from each other that they could only meet only during the New Year’s time off. Everyone was given a job assignment and there was no choice in the matter until over a decade later, the economy opened up to the private sector.
#4051-D-576 Thousands of miles of new railroad track was a major accomplishment of the government that came to power in 1949. Prior to that time, war, revolution, anarchy and foreign invasion made any significant infrastructure projects impossible. In the 1970’s and ’80’s, one needed permission to travel. It was common to line up three days in advance to secure seats.
#4051-D-574 The structure of the Dongbian Men building provides stability without walls, a technique used in the construction of modern skyscrapers whereby the walls merely divide space and are not a structural component. During the Cultural Revolution, 1966-76, some Red Guards holed up inside the tower and they also left some graffiti.
#4051-D-490 The streets were pretty much given over to pedestrians and bicycles, as there were no private automobiles in China in 1979. The sidewalks were taken over by country folk bringing their crops and wares for sale. This was possible because of the liberalizing of the economy under the new policies of Deng Xiaoping who gained command of the government shortly after the death of Mao. Note the sameness of garments worn by the people in the era before China had fully opened up to the outside world.