12 October 2012
Last updated at 21:35 ET
A previously unseen archive of photographs from China's Cultural Revolution taken by renowned photographer Li Zhensheng is on display at London's Barbican exhibition centre. Experts say they offer a rare and uncensored insight into one of the most turbulent periods of 20th Century history.
Mr Li's black and white pictures show mass rallies, ritual humiliations, beatings, executions and passionate revolutionary enthusiasm. They provide a valuable glimpse of what the Cultural Revolution was like in provincial China and the terror faced by people being publicly denounced. (© Li Zhensheng, Courtesy Contact Press Images)
It is only possible to see the photos thanks to the bravery and ingenuity of Mr Li. As a photographer for the Heilongjiang Daily he got permission form the authorities to get access to sensitive areas, often photographing acts of senseless violence in addition to more positive images of the upheaval.
But fearing recriminations and facing the possibility of being denounced himself as a counter-revolutiuonary, the politcal incorrectness of his images meant that he was forced to hide the photos away under the floorboards of his home. Only now is it posssible to see them in public.
The photos have come to light mainly because of the work of Robert Pledge of Contact Press Images, who has been closely involved in staging the exhibition after discovering Mr Li's 30,000-odd images while travelling in China in the 1980s.
Mr Pledge says that there were so few photographers working in Maoist China because they were at risk of being denounced as dangerous intellectuals. "Most photographers were not prepared to put their lives and their careers at risk by taking sensitive pictures."
Mr Li had to be careful to save his negatives from the Red Guards. "It wasn't safe to have the pictures around the house, so we cut a hole in the floor and put all the damaging pictures inside," he said. "On 26 December 1968, the guards came to my house, taking everything they found, but the negatives were safe."
The photographer is saddened that the positive and negative side of his images are not allowed to be seen in China. "I hope that if the book is ever published there, my compatriots will be shocked too. I want to tell the true story of the Cultural Revolution, to serve a purpose."