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Street photography reveals China in the 1980s

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British photographer Adrian Bradshaw arrived in Beijing in 1984, going on to spend three decades documenting China's changing culture.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionShanghai, 1985

In his new book, The Door Opened: 1980s China, Bradshaw shares scenes of everyday life in China, drawing from his archive of almost two million photos.

Here is a selection of images, with captions and descriptions from the photographer.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionThe slogan: "Long Live Mao Zedong thought," is painted over, Beijing, 1985

Bradshaw says of the photo above: "The big red propaganda boards typically at main intersections were gradually replaced by advertising, often for overseas brands of electronics that were not even available in the shops.

"The idea was to build awareness for the time China would be rich enough to buy imported items.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionTwo tricycle riders enjoy the rare sight of a long-nosed foreigner, Shanghai, 1985

"The sight of a foreigner was very unusual at that time even in Shanghai, formerly the most cosmopolitan of Chinese cities."

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionMuhammad Ali, Beijing, 1985

In 1985, Bradshaw spent a week with former world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali and his entourage, an experience that helped him make the decision to stay in China.

"One of the first visitors to China I was asked to photograph was the great Muhammad Ali, who was being sounded out as an adviser for Beijing's desire to host the Olympic Games in the future," he says.

"Undimmed by early signs of Parkinson's disease, he was universally recognised, with his good humour, sparring and deft sleight of hand - member of The Magic Circle no less - Ali brought smiles and cheers wherever he went.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionA fashion show featuring clothes by the French designer Pierre Cardin is seen at the Beijing Maxim's in 1985, a replica of the original restaurant in Paris

"This was possibly the first fashion show in reform-era China. The looks on the faces of the audience are priceless.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionConstruction begins on the Pudong waterfront, Shanghai, 1987

"It's amazing to me how derelict the other side of the river in Shanghai was. There wasn't even a bridge.

"Now, there are multiple bridges, tunnels, underground lines and a skyline that competes with Manhattan.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionA fairground, Shanghai, 1985

"Who knows, one of these children may have grown up to be a real astronaut. No-one imagined this could be possible at that time.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionA young girl learns to walk while her grandmother watches with a smile, Chengdu, 1985

"The tenderness of this moment is all the more striking when one considers the presence of the granny who was born at a time when it was normal for women to be intentionally crippled with bound feet.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionA portable music player attracts the attentions of a small crowd, Shanghai, 1985

"Consumer electronics were enormous status symbols in China and everywhere I went I would be asked how much my camera cost.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionA street market, Hefei, 1986

"Street markets tended to be dominated by large quantities of the same produce and all prices were negotiable.

"This is where the new economic era really started, with farmers able to make extra money if they were more productive.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionA man cools off in a canal, Beijing, 1985

"Air conditioning was almost unheard of in most of China in the 1980s.

"So, with summer temperatures reaching 40C, people stayed out late and jumped in any convenient body of water.

image copyrightADRIAN BRADSHAW
image captionCourtiers take up position in the centre of the Forbidden City during a scene in the filming of The Last Emperor, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, Beijing, 1985

"I met [director Bernardo] Bertolucci on his first exploratory trip to Beijing to negotiate access to the Forbidden City to make [The Last Emperor].

"We walked around the Imperial Palace and he explained how since a child he had been fascinated by the story of an emperor who was deposed and rehabilitated in a new system.

"He was particularly keen to show me the passageway where the last emperor, Pu Yi, had learned to ride a bicycle, which would become a significant moment in the film."

Photos are copyright.

Related Topics

  • China
  • Photography

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