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Pictures capture daily life in Beijing over seven decades

Author  :  ZHOU KUI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-06-15


Beijing Pictorial History: Beijing Ordinary Life in 70 Years

In recent years, the “pictorial turn” has become an important topic of discussion in historian circles. The use of visual materials as formal historical materials reflects a change in historical research methods. Since the middle of the 20th century, the rapid development of image technology including film, digital photography and mobile devices has provided a new historical database for the production and collection of visual materials. 

In Beijing Pictorial History: Beijing Ordinary Life in 70 Years, Li Jian has selected nearly 1,000 classic photos from hundreds of thousands of pictures taken by more than 200 photographers from home and abroad. The photos present the history of change in the lives of people in Beijing since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The scenes include, of course, grand historical moments such as when the People’s Liberation Army passed through the Legation Street of Peking (present-day Dongjiaomin Lane of Beijing) on Feb. 3, 1949, and when the national flag of the PRC was raised for the first time on Tiananmen Square on Oct. 1, 1949.

What is even more precious is that in the era when photographic equipment was not fully popularized and the cost of photography was still relatively high, many photographers still turned their lenses to the daily lives of ordinary citizens, recording the unique memories of an era, the city and individuals in the form of images. 

As written in the postscript of this book, “This is a story about Beijing: the first batch of female tram drivers, the first batch of female police officers, the first car produced in Beijing, the first fashion show of a foreign designer, the first KFC ... This is also the story of the PRC: the First Session of the First National People’s Congress, the first marriage law, the first constitution and the first Asian Games in 1990 and Summer Olympics in 2008 …”

The change of people’s ideas hidden in the history of images is an unexpected surprise. Without the photos, it is difficult to imagine how fashionable people of the day were. On June 6, 1951, young people in fashionable swimwear were snapped enjoying themselves at the then newly-built Shichahai People’s Swimming Pool. On May 1, 1963, citizens were caught boating to listen to a water symphony concert in Beihai Park held by the China Film Symphony Orchestra. In 1986, models wearing fashion clothes were snapped performing a fashion show on the Gold Water Bridge in front of Tiananmen Square. 


Zhou Kui is an associate professor from the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at Communication University of China.


(Edited and translated by YANG LANLAN)

Editor: Yu Hui

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