Before Shi Xiaofan’s revolutionary road, Yin Chao’s raw and rural Tibetan explorations or DALeast tagging the walls of the world, there were the first photo studios burgeoning across China’s colonial treaty ports in the late 19th century. This enigmatic new endeavour allowed for many a Curious George to document everyday life across the country. Feng Keli writes for Sixth Tone.
Temper Magazine’s Trending segment casts a net upon all that is throwing tantrums within the world of China Fashion across a variety of global sources. This very necessary segment makes for a collection of largely non-Temper Magazine-original content dipping its toe into the deep indigo-dyed pool that is the ocean of Middle Kingdom fashionable astonishment. This time around…
We head on over to Sixth Tone where book editor and founder of Chinese-language publication “Old Photos” Feng Keli shares with readers a glimpse of the Middle Kingdom’s modern history through imagery. Feng’s magazine has since 1996 focused on the publication of numerous family portraits taken across China during the 19th and 20th centuries. These photos allow us to be bolted by a flash of the everyday lives of Chinese people, from the red days of revolution to a nation as seen through the lens of foreign missionaries. Feng explains all for Sixth Tone.
Many of us feel self-conscious in front of the camera. As late as the 1970s, many Chinese people, especially those living in remote regions, refused to be photographed out of superstition. Traveling deep into eastern China’s Shandong Province at the end of the 70s, one journalist for the provincial pictorial magazine was surprised to find that his interviewees flatly refused to have their pictures taken, for fear that the camera would bewitch them and suck their blood.
Nevertheless, photography soon found a place in people’s lives. Before the advent of the digital camera — and, later, the smartphone — wealthy families and those from social classes that the government deemed favorable often marked festivals and family reunions with a trip to the local photography studio.
The photo above, taken by a foreign missionary in the 1920s, depicts an ordinary peasant family in Yantai, a city in eastern China’s Shandong province. As a mark of seniority, the eldest members of the family are seated in the foreground. The white-bearded patriarch touts a rough-hewn walking stick while seated, almost like a bishop’s scepter. From the small size of his wife’s feet, we can deduce that they were bound when she was a child. China officially banned foot binding in 1912, though the practice continued in some areas until the Communist takeover in 1949.
Flanking the elderly couple are their son and his wife. The identities of the women in the back row are not clear, but it is evident that men are in the minority in this household. The baby being cradled in the back row is probably a girl; if she were a boy, she would generally have been held by her mother or grandmother in the front row. This more privileged position symbolized that the family had a male heir; sometimes, a boy’s penis might even be exposed to make his status absolutely clear.