October 3, 2009

Photographer Alan Chin's Letter from China

Alan Chin photo. China's 60th anniversary of the revolution.


October 1st, 2009:

It is the 60th anniversary of the revolution, when Mao clambered up onto Tiananmen Gate and proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic.

I really only have one response: "我莫咁得僊."

Rocket launchers and armored cars pass by on the 3rd Ring Road, but I'm happy to spend the day listening to Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop songs from the '60s: Teresa Teng, Connie Chan Po-chu, Carrie Koo Mei, yeah.

They controlled and corralled the media and made sure that the only images that could be made and published would be of the clean, triumphant, lavishly produced choreography, yet, at the same time, were so disorganized that journalists were kept waiting hours to learn the most basic and practical information.

In my childhood at the Chinese school where I had to go after regular American school every day, they made us watch Taiwanese propaganda films. I remember one, of the huge military parade in Taipei, for the 65th anniversary of THEIR revolution, lines of tanks and soldiers. Taiwan was a one-party military dictatorship back then, too. What nonsense; then, now, both sides.

After all my memories of being here in June, 1989, which have come flooding back this year, the last thing I want to do is to photograph their orgy.

Though if you go on YouTube and view the old newsreel footage of Mao, speaking in his Hunan-accented Mandarin through those huge megaphones, Zhou Enlai and the other high Party leaders at his side, you get a real sense of the idealism, the hope, the sense of victory and destiny at that moment.

My father remembered when the first Red Army soldiers came through his village in Guangdong Province, in south China. They were from Lin Biao's 4th Field Army, and of course spoke only Mandarin as opposed to our Cantonese. My dad was twenty years old, a young husband and father, and he counted several thousand ragged soldiers of a brigade marching through on foot. They had all of a dozen or so mules and donkeys to carry a few machine-guns and mortars, that was all the heavy armament they had for such a large unit. They stopped and introduced themselves:


"We are soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army."

Beyond that they could communicate only by writing characters in the dirt with twigs. But they paid for everything, were exceptionally polite, and my father could not believe that these almost barefoot young men had defeated the mighty Kuomintang, with all their American weapons and money. It made him want to join them, and only after an agonizing debate in his mind did he decide to emigrate instead to the United States shortly after.

When I think, then, of all the broken lives, needless deaths, and great suffering that followed, at least for the first 40 of these last 60 years, I cannot help but feel disgust and contempt, tinged with bittersweet nostalgia and lost hope, for the current Communist inheritors, still in power.

I'll say this, though: It's a lovely autumn day and traffic is minimal because all the streets are blocked off. I'm going to go on a nice bike ride. 🙂

(image: ©Alan Chin. October 1, 2009. Beijing)

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Alan Chin
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