Photography and the Cultural Revolution: A wider aperture, a longer exposure | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 4, Issue 2-3
  • ISSN: 2051-7041
  • E-ISSN: 2051-705X



The Cultural Revolution was not only a political attempt to restructure society in its entirety but a transformation of the world of Chinese visual representation. Photography was a major part of the image world of the Cultural Revolution, serving ideological aims and projecting a coercive revolutionary mode of social and political behaviour. This strict state control of photographic production and dissemination has led to photography, and other forms of visual expression in the Cultural Revolution, being viewed as an exceptional visual culture, framed and understood largely as a phenomenon of propaganda. This reductive view is reflected in the hitherto dominant image world of the Cultural Revolution which has sometimes calcified into a visual discourse of mass rallies and Mao iconography. This article considers the more recent emergence of other photographic records of the period – transgressive images, unofficial and private images, archival research projects – which offer alternative frameworks of mediating contested memories and understanding the history, complexity and consequences of the Cultural Revolution.


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