Through the Eye of a Master Photographer (III) - The Years Before The Cultural Revolution

If we could foresee the dark clouds in life, what would we do differently for the sake of ourselves, or for our children? For those of us who have weathered the worst tempests, we know that this is only a hypothetical question.

When Teochew-born photographer Hang Tsi-kuang (Han Zhiguang 韓志光, left) capture the stunning picture of a lone man walking by the sea with dark clouds gathering like mountains in the background in 1951, he could not have imagined the turmoil that would ravage the whole of China for the next three decades. In fact many of the photographs he took in the immediate following years suggested relative social tranquility and quiet progress.

Clouds like black ink covering the mountains, Swatow 汕頭 1951


Resisting drought, Thenghai 澄海 1953


Buddha statue at Kaiyuan temple (開元寺), Teochew 潮州 1953

Ghua-bhe-lou 外馬路 (a main thoroughfare of Swatow), Swatow 汕頭 1955


Old ladies leisurely learning narrative songs (go-ceh 歌冊) together, Swatow 汕頭 1955


Female embroidery workers, Swatow 汕頭 1957


"Little Park" (小公園, with Swatow's main departmental stores in the background), Swatow 汕頭 1958
1958 marked the launch of Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" campaign to industrialise China, which ended three-years later as the most catastrophic period in human history after tens of millions died from famine and mass hunger. The face of death is not seen in the photos of Hang Tsi-kuang from these years that have survived, although it is apparent of how the people were now reduced to groups of organised labour.


People gathering seagrass by the Phoenix Pagoda, Teochew 潮州 1959


Constructing a reservoir, Pholeng 普寧 1959


Drying jellyfish by the beach,  Swatow 汕頭 1959


Xiangzi Bridge (湘子橋)Teochew 潮州 1960. Historically famous for its unique construction of having stone piers on both ends connected by a row of movable boats in the middle, it was now rebuilt into a regular beam bridge.


Panaromic view of the old prefectural city, Teochew 潮州 1961


A potter at work, Teochew 潮州 1961


An amphibious exercise, Swatow 汕頭 1961


Female workers selecting tea leaves, Teochew 潮州 1962
Consigned to downfall for the Great Leap Forward's calamitous outcome, Mao Zedong unleashed the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to salvage his own career and to destroy his political foes. In the resulting chaos, men of intellect and learning were targeted for attack and as a renowned photographer Hang Tsi-kuang (picture of his children in happier days on right) was not spare. He was forced to give up his camera and to take up instead the farming hoe in his home village. There he suffered the personal disaster of losing nearly his entire collection of photographs during a heavy flood.


What other stories would these images tell, we will never know.
You may also be interested in reading: 


"Like" our Facebook page to stay updated with The Teochew Store.

Leave a comment