Next VizCult: Dengyan Zhou, Binghamton University, TODAY

““Going Deeply to Search and Select”: Socialist Realism and Photography in the People’s Republic of China in the late 1950s”

Wednesday, November 12, 5:15 pm

FA 218

Chen Bo (b.1925), Battle in the Rain, 1958, contemporary silver print, the photographer’s archive, Beijing

In December 1959, the headquarters of the Xinhua (New China) News Agency—the largest state-owned Communist Party mouthpiece in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—issued its lengthy “Conclusive Comments on the Discussion of the Question of Photojournalistic Truthfulness.” The “conclusive” commentary put an end to the debates about photographic reality that had been launched in August 1958 by the professional monthly, Xinwen sheying (Photojournalism), by laying out, for the first time in China, the theoretical parameters for a photographic practice allied with socialist realist principles. Why did the leadership of the Xinhua News Agency feel so strongly that a theoretical and political solution to the problem of photography was needed? This was a moment when China found itself at odds with the Soviet Union over Kruschev’s denunciation of Stalin at the Twentieth Party Congress of 1956, but it was also a moment when, internally to China, the Communist Party had begun to shift from the anti-Rightist political campaign to rapid promotion of industrialization under the Great Leap Forward. This presentation will challenge the oversimplified assumption that Chinese socialist realism was simply inherited from Soviet cultural politics under Stalin. Against this, it will seek to trace the complex discursive and institutional conditions under which photography was purposefully incorporated into the cultural mechanisms of the single-party state as part of the effort to construct a new social and cultural order in the PRC.

Dengyan Zhou is a doctoral candidate at Binghamton University.

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